Blessed are the pure in heart.
Jesus wasn’t the only one to say that. It’s one of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), but, like others, it can be found elsewhere in the Bible and other sacred texts. Blessed are the pure in heart, says Jesus, for they will see God.
Hmm. That might sound like a tremendous blessing, but a challenging one, too. Who can say that their heart is pure?
And yet, I’ll say it again. I think Jesus looked at the crowd and he saw in their faces how they were that day and he decided to begin with reminding them of the most fundamental thing: you are blessed. Just as you, from the very beginning, you are blessed.
As he moved through the crowd, he met the poor in spirit, people who were grieving, who were broken, meek, hungry. He met people who struggled to find the strength to live in a challenging world and he met people who’s strength of spirit challenged the world: people sharing compassion and grace, working for peace, living true to what Jesus was trying to show us all. I think Jesus saw this as a moment to remind us that, while it’s easy to say all lives are blessed, there are moments when it’s important for the individual to hear their experience named, just as they are in this moment, and know the intimacy of that connection recognized.
Jesus may well have found himself face to face with many more than the gospel records, but those that we have cover a lot of ground, moving from weak in spirit to being of such committed spirit that they are persecuted. And there in the middle seems the impossible: someone with a pure heart. Brokenness and grief we can understand, even care, compassion, working for peace, even being righteous we can see, but pure in heart? With all our human failings, how can that be possible?
We judge a pure heart with our own notions of morality and ethics, cleanliness and perfection, expecting, even, that it be without sin. We judge it to be unattainable, with maybe an occasional, even flawed, example. But I wonder if that’s what Jesus had in mind.
I wonder if, for Jesus, a pure heart was simply one that was able to strip away all that we pile on it and break down all the walls we build in the name of protecting it. What’s then laid bare is that divine spirit that’s at its centre, that essence of good that is in all of us. That’s why Jesus says the pure in heart see God. Not just in the visual recognition of God at work in the world or in the wonder of creation, not in seeing the surface, but in being aware that behind that and within that is the same divine spirit that’s in our own heart. Seeing God is knowing, understanding and connecting to God in the intimacy of a relationship. That’s what Jesus is trying to do for all of us, to bring us back to that original blessing.
I think Jesus saw that in someone’s face that day. Maybe even more than one. We can see it, too, maybe even in a mirror.