Posted on August 1, 2015
Blessed : When your focus is on your heart, not performance (A series on the Beatitudes)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
There are all kinds of things that are described as “pure.” Pure water. Pure nectar. Pure innocence. To be pure, something has to be completely unadulterated, unmixed, untainted by any other element. Just one drop of something else makes the difference.
Way back in the beginning of the Israelite nation, when God laid down the Levitical Law, there were a lot of rules about purity. If you’re ever able to get through the entire book of Leviticus, you’ll find that there are some strange rules, such as: “Don’t cut the hair on the sides of your head or trim your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27) Or, “Don’t tattoo yourselves.” (Leviticus 19:28) If all of the laws in Leviticus were followed today, there would be a lot of us Christians walking around completely unclean. Definitely not PURE.
It’s important to take those laws into consideration when hearing Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” You see, the Jewish culture into which Jesus was born was steeped in tradition and law. The favor of God was earned by keeping the laws, many of which had to do with keeping oneself pure and clean. Purity was honorable and an absolute necessity for upstanding Jews. To be tainted at all by any of the things considered unclean, would mean displeasing God. In essence, you could earn God’s love by doing pure things and earn God’s judgment by doing anything else. Moreover, if you wanted to see God someday, you would need to be completely clean and untainted. Surely, those who were unclean would be cast out.
Imagine Jesus’ mother Mary, when she conceived the Christ in her womb without having done the impure thing of having sex before marriage with her fiance’ Joseph. She was pure, but her growing belly signified something entirely different. How frustrating it must have been to know that you know that you know that you did nothing wrong, but the stares and whispers of those in the town, eyes looking down on you in judgment were certain you were impure, unclean, a whore, an outcast.
Imagine Joseph, Jesus’ father, when he heard the news that his fiancee’ Mary had conceived a child and he knew that he knew that it was not HIS child she was carrying. To marry her anyway was to throw away his purity. He would also be judged and scorned and rejected. What a big weight he bore on his shoulders, not just being asked to parent the Messiah, but being asked to bear the burden of shame, shame that was completely undeserved.
This is the culture, the family that Jesus was born into. And with this simple statement he says, “None of those laws and rituals matter. What matters is your heart. How pure is your heart? Are your hands clean and your heart a filthy mess? Are you looking down your nose at the unclean among you, full of hatred and lust and entitlement while the poor and neglected waste away at your feet?”
Sadly, I think the church has focused a lot of attention on the outside appearance of purity, and it’s not doing us any favors. We prefer that people look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way, all the while not really being concerned with what’s going on in the inside corners of the heart. As parents, we want our children to conform and be the models of goodness and obedience. We fool ourselves into thinking that if our child looks the part, they are okay and good little Christian soldiers. I think there are a lot of teens out there that are saying all the right things and performing to their parents expectations, but their hearts are heavy with the weight of shame and guilt. Why do we place such a heavy burden on them? Let’s let them ask questions and doubt and wrestle with their faith. Let’s let them explore and wonder and step away for a minute, trusting that God has them in his hands and will never let them go.
Ah… trust. That’s a difficult one for me as a parent. Can I trust that my children, wandering and wondering will be safe? I have this false sense of security when they are doing things the “right way.” Sadly, I miss the value of the struggle and questioning and how that can lead them to purity of heart, even though they may not seem to have purity on the outside. (I digress!)
Blessed are you when the focus is on your heart, on love and pure thoughts, on mercy and grace and justice. You will see your God. Yes, you will see him in the eyes of children and homeless and questioning teens. You’ll see him as you wipe away the scales from your eyes and see the world as he does, filled with broken people, people whose beauty is in their brokenness. Blessed are you, because the performance is over, and what’s left is what truly matters.
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