Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
I assumed that purity of heart was only something that would be eventually achieved, or rather, granted as a grace, when we gather in God’s eternal home. After all, purity equates with perfection, to be without blemish, and I, for one, am light-years from perfection.
And yet, Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8) and it is a colossal theological error to assign the Sermon on the Mount to the sweet by and by. Only after nationalism invaded biblical Christianity did anyone imagine that Jesus’ teachings were not for his apprentices here and now.
Is it possible to be pure of heart? Is it possible for us to see God today? Or, is all of this so figurative as to become imaginary?
Moses saw YHWH on Mount Sinai and felt the need to veil his face so the Israelites would not witness the glorious brilliant light that radiating from his face.
Nevertheless, referring to that same story, the Apostle Paul assures us: “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).
So, apparently Paul agrees with Jesus (surprise!) that we can, and should, see God here and now. And, as we gaze steadfastly on Him, Paul assures us that we will be metamorphosed from who we are to who He is.
We can see God today, but only if we are pure of heart. So, what does it mean to be pure of heart?
“Heart” is of course used metaphorically to refer to the center, the essence of our beings.
The word translated “pure” in Matthew 5:8 is the Greek word καθαρός (katharos, pronounced: kath-ar-os’) from which we derive the English words “catharsis,” and “cathartic.” Catharsismeans to cleanse, purge, the purging of negative emotions, an abreaction, or purgation. It is exactly backwards to try to define an ancient Greek word by its English derivative, but we can follow the evolution of katharosto catharsis.
In the context of the New Testament and other ancient Greek literature, καθαρός can mean, depending on the context:
- To be physically clean, as in you just took a shower
- To be purified by fire, like a gemstone
- To be pruned like a vine so that it bears more fruit
- To be ceremonially clean, as in the Levitical law
- To be ethically free of corruption
- To be free of guilt
- To be free of sin
- To be sincere, genuine
- To be clear like sunshine
- To be clear and open, like a meadow free of weeds
- To be free of pollutants and impurities, like pure water
- To be centered, balanced, like harmonious music
- To have balanced financial accounts
- To be honest
- To be without blemish
- To be free of chaff, like winnowed grain
Now, you’re going to have to take your own shower, and, unless you’re a Jew living in the year 412 BC, you don’t need the Levitical rituals. And, of course, I realize you are not a meadow, a grapevine, a river, or a ray of sunshine (although your mom may disagree with me).
But, Jesus’ cruciform love frees us of guilt, shame, all sin, and every transgression, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making you and me ethical, free of corruption, and genuine followers of the Master.
In other words, it is all of grace. Ask for the grace to be pruned, purged, invaded by the loving fire of the Holy Spirit, and transformed. Ask for the grace to be balanced, centered on Jesus, and live harmoniously with YHWH.
Beauty from ashes – God will take our polluted lives and make them pure streams of perfect love.
Slow down. Breathe deeply. Observe the beauty of creation. Read Scripture prayerfully. Imagine yourself in the Gospel story. Meditate. Focus on Jesus. Gaze into His beautiful face today.