For our sixth week in the Beatitudes, we’ll explore Matthew 5:8 — “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Monday, October 14
Read: Matthew 5:1-8
Consider: Sometimes we misinterpret Jesus’ words because we’ve gotten into the bad habit of always looking at his promises as if they were promises for the future, promises yet to be fulfilled. To be sure, some are. But Jesus’ gospel—literally, his “good news”—is about a new reality. And this new reality that he called the “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reality for today as well as for tomorrow. His kingdom is the present and coming kingdom. It is the now and not yet kingdom. We celebrate the values and presence of Christ right now.
If we miss this, we’ll miss the richness, the beauty, the challenge and the reality of Christ in us this very day.
I used to see this blessing of the “pure in heart” as a promise for the future. When Jesus said, “they will see God,” I assumed that he was speaking about that day when we will see him “face to face —that day when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I now believe that there is so much more to this promise. I think this is a blessing for time and for eternity.
If I confine this promise to the future, I may find myself spending my life trying to manufacture a distorted concept of heart purity so that someday I will receive my reward. The danger in that is that I may try to earn a future reward rather than accept what God gives me every day—his presence. He wants me to see him now.
The beautiful mystery is that seeing him now is part of what purifies us. Seeing God in his world and in those around us has an amazing impact on our priorities. It humbles us. It opens us to the possibility of loving others, because we see they are gifts from God. It rearranges our perspective, which begins to wash from us the toxins of hate, fear and ignorance.
It is an amazing reality that the more he purifies us, the more clearly we see him and the more clearly we see him, the more our lives are made pure.
And, of course, we cannot purify ourselves. God is the One who cleanses us from sin. But we can submit ourselves to him, asking him to help us see him more clearly and to open us to his purifying love.
Pray: “Lord, I will look for you today—in your word, in nature, in the people I encounter, in moments of realizing that you are close—in all things. As I behold your beauty, purify my heart. May my motives conform to the beauty of your presence in my life and in our world.”
Tuesday, October 15
Read: Mark 4:3-9, 14-20
Consider: Søren Kierkegaard was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the nineteenth century. His writings are so important that some English-speaking scholars study Danish just so they can read his writings in his own language. But to many of us, Brother Søren is so much more than an intellectual. He has become a spiritual mentor.
His most famous book is called, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. In it, he tries to teach us that a life given fully to Jesus Christ is a life that is constantly changed, continually cleansed and purified by Christ’s presence. When he teaches us to “will one thing” he is saying that when our lives are consumed with a multitude of desires, we lose the primary value of life. But, when all our labor and all of our affections are sourced by the “one thing”—Jesus Christ—our lives change. This change is not simply a one-time occurrence. It is the continual breath of life.
This echoes what Jesus taught in the parable of the farmer, in which he explained the various soil types that allowed the word to grow or prevented it from growing in our lives. He said that some people’s reaction to the word is like seed planted among thorns. They “hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).
Those “desires for other things” can be subtle, but they complicate our lives in terrible ways. They can bring duplicity and chaos and, as Jesus said, “choke” the very life of Christ in us.
When we ask God to remove our “double mindedness” (James 4:8), we are allowing him to purify us. And when the clutter is cleared away, we begin to see God again. We see his power and beauty in new and amazing ways.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Pray: Let’s pray the prayer of a centuries-old Irish hymn…
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art
Wednesday, October 16
Read: Mark 10:13-16
Consider: Surrounded by children, Jesus said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (10:14). Jesus’ new kingdom—the kingdom of heaven inaugurated with his coming to earth—would only be grasped by people “such as these.” What does that mean?
Well, first let’s go back to our basic understanding of the kingdom of heaven. This reign of God is here now, while it is still yet-to-come in its fullness. We are called to live in the new kingdom—to live by the values of that kingdom—today, while we prepare the way for its full realization when Jesus Christ makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
So, when Jesus told us that if we didn’t “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” we would “never enter it” (10:15), he was addressing our current relationship to the kingdom (see Monday’s meditation).
When he spoke about “entering” the kingdom of heaven, he wasn’t talking about going to a future heaven in the sky (as people so often interpret his words today). He was telling us that to “get it”—to understand the kingdom, grasp the kingdom, comprehend the kingdom, live in the kingdom—right now, we would have to approach it in the manner of a child.
To which we repeat the question, what does that mean?
Take some time to ask yourself, “What child-like qualities do I need to embrace today so that I may get a glimpse of Christ and his kingdom in this present moment?” How are you going to “enter the kingdom” this very day?
As you meditate on that, put it in the context of the promise we’re looking at this week…
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Pray: “Lord, you welcomed the children and you welcome me. I am your child. Help me to live like your child today. Help me to walk in simplicity and live in dependency on you, so that I won’t miss seeing your kingdom that has already come to our earth.”
Thursday, October 17
Read: Colossians 2:1-5
Consider: When it comes to understanding the good news of Jesus Christ, we must avoid what Richard Rohr calls “dualistic thinking.” Dualistic thinking is that “either/or” determination that takes place in our minds only. With our intellectual understanding, we put language to concepts, we categorize them, we say that if “x” is true, then “y” must be false.
To a degree, we were formed to think in that manner, and it is necessary. But when it comes to God’s work in our world, we can’t confine it to “either/or” thinking. We serve a “both/and” God.
If I am only going to believe what I can comprehend with my mind, then the gospel—the good news—is inaccessible to me. There are things the gospel teaches that cannot be grasped between the ears. Jesus was fully God and fully man. That cannot be understood with dualistic thinking. Dualism says that Jesus was human, or he was divine, but he can’t be both. But God gives us the capacity to somehow grasp that both are true. Another example is the Trinity. God is one and God is three—Father, Son and Spirit. I don’t care how committed you are to define and describe the Trinity, if you try to reduce it to what can be comprehended intellectually, you lose the reality of it. It becomes just a matter of words and vague concepts.
If we’re going to grasp realities such as God and Christ and love, we must embrace a larger thinking—a thinking that goes beyond the mind alone to include our whole being. This inclusive thinking—this non-dualistic reality—is what Paul often calls “the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19), or as he called it in today’s reading, “the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
Don’t lose the mystery. If we lose the mystery, we lose God. If we can define and explain him, we have reduced him and crammed him into an “either/or” world. And that puts us in danger of making him in our image instead of asking him to continually create us in his image.
In today’s reading, Paul tells us that in Christ…
“…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (2:3-4)
I believe that embracing the mystery is what Jesus meant when he said…
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
Pray: “Lord, today I want to ‘see’ you with all of my senses. I want my eyes and ears, my mind and soul, my emotions and my will to bask in your presence today. Purify my life. Show me how to work with you to clear the clutter so I can know you with my whole being.”
Friday, October 18
Read: 1 John 4:7-17
Consider: What comes to your mind when you hear Jesus speak about the “pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8)? To some people that sounds like a person who has conquered temptation—a person who never has an impure thought or a bad attitude, who never struggles with anger or vindictive feelings against another person. It is someone who lives on a different plane than the rest of us. But how does that make sense when before Jesus blessed the pure in heart, he blessed the “poor in spirit”—those of us who are weak and spiritually destitute?
I think we need to be careful here. Purity is not something that I accomplish. It is not the pursuit of an unattainable perfection. In fact, that’s the opposite of purity. When I am consumed with whether I’m doing it right, when I’m consumed with my own purity, when I’m consumed with my own righteousness, I have then made myself the center of my universe. I am consumed with me! And, of course, that goes against everything that Jesus taught us about love.
Every good thing is a gift from God (James 1:17)—including our cleansing. We are not purified by our efforts. Purity simply comes as we allow God to remove the impurities from our lives.
I tend to think of purity of heart as honesty of heart—the lack of duplicity. When we are transparent and humble, we accept his forgiveness and we then have the freedom to love others. We are not concerned about our own reputation. We don’t put ourselves first. But we live in the freedom and joy of Christ’s presence and his acceptance of us, so it is natural to accept and love others.
I think that is why Jesus said that the pure in heart “will see God” (Matthew 5:8). If I am bound up in my own pursuit of perfection, I won’t see God. I’ll see my own successes and failures (mostly failures), and I’ll compare myself with others. I’ll walk through this world in the bondage of bad religion. But purity of heart clears the clutter, so I can see God.
John said that “No one has ever seen God.” Now it’s obvious here that John is talking about not seeing God with our physical eyes, because he went on to say, “but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). In other words, in the realm of the spirit, we see God continually in one another. We see Jesus in the faces of those who are served (Matthew 25:40) and in the hands of those who serve. This was so real to John that he had the boldness to say…
“In this world we are like Jesus.” (1 John 4:17)
Pray: “Lord, help me to be open to you—to your forgiveness, your acceptance and your love for me. Help me resist the prodding of my ego to try and earn my righteousness. Help me to allow myself to accept this gift from you. Then as I pass that gift on to others, I know I will see Christ in them and in me.”
Saturday, October 19
Read: Matthew 5:3-8
Consider: It’s easy to read the Beatitudes and see them as stand-alone statements or as a list of virtues. But that misses the point. Remember, at that time, Jesus was beginning to teach on the reign of God—the kingdom that had come to earth with the coming of Jesus Christ. He would show us the contrast between this kingdom and the empires of the world. His plan was for us to live in him as he lives in us (John 14:20), and to simultaneously live as agents of grace in our world.
So, these intertwined blessings give us a new vision—a vision of how to live in Christ as he lives in us and through us. This is the view from the bottom, not the view from the top—not the view from a position of privilege and power. No, this king was bringing a new world into existence through those who were willing to see the world as he saw it and willing to walk like him. He was calling us to be like Jesus. And, against all earthly wisdom, he was showing us that our spiritual poverty would be the very thing that empowered us to be like him.
When you act like Jesus, you stand in opposition to the values of our culture. You don’t bow to their idols. You take the position of a servant—even if it costs you your life.
So, to understand purity of heart—or as we saw yesterday, honesty of heart—we need to see our other blessings as well. We are blessed as…
…people who acknowledge their need for God—the “poor in spirit.”
…people who mourn with one another to find God in that place of suffering.
…humble people who are free to be gentle with others, knowing that our meekness is not weakness.
…hungry people—hungry for what is right, hungry for justice for the poor and oppressed, hungry for God’s will to be done on this earth.
…people who freely lavish on others the mercy that we ourselves have received.
…peacemakers who love their enemies, no matter what it costs.
This kind of life changes us before it changes the world. It humbles us, purifies our motives, and expands our vision to see what was impossible to see before we fully embraced the way of Jesus. Or as Jesus said, this would cause us to “see God” (5:8).
Pray: “Lord, purify my heart. Help me to live in the simple humility that you love to bless. And as you purify my life, thank you that I will see you more clearly every day.”