Image: The Golden Gate, Jerusalem
Jesus continues teaching: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. Now here’s a problem. How can Jesus put ‘seeing God’ as a goal, when by Biblical declaration, ‘No man has seen God at any time’. Moses had taught that Jehovah was the great ‘I am’- essence beyond material form. Ancient Greeks had similar ideas. We have present day psychologists and philosophers who speak of the numinous and the metaphysical. And, of course, some theologians use this kind of language.
Jesus wanted people to be spiritually alive as well as physically well, emotionally fulfilled, and intellectually challenged. He could be quite rude about what he saw as hypocritical and pompous behaviour from religious people and the religious institutions of his time. He made it quite clear that it wasn’t the institution per se that bugged him but the hypocrisy, the insincerity, and the pomposity of certain individuals. He said he came to fulfill the Law not to destroy it.
But the Bible also talks about ‘the eye of faith’. This a metaphor for seeing beyond the physical world of the senses. Not everybody these days is convinced that it exists but more and more ‘hard scientists’ such as physicists and mathematicians are arguing strenuously both for and against its existence. There is no doubt that Jesus believed in the importance of faith, and the Christian church, following his example, has promoted it vigorously throughout history. Faith requires spiritual discernment.
Jesus is saying that the precursor to the life of faith is to stop pretending that we have spiritual merit (being poor in spirit); it is finding comfort for our own grieving (those that mourn); it is being hungry and thirsty for righteousness; it is being merciful to others as we ask for mercy ourselves; all this. And now it requires a pure heart. What’s that?
Let’s look at David again. After all he prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’ and we know that at times his heart was anything but pure. How then, did David acquire a clean heart? He knew that he sometimes missed the mark in aiming at being righteous. He called it sin. We all share with him these feelings of being inadequate. He sincerely wanted to do what was possible to make up for his abominable behaviour. He confessed to God and others his shortcomings and made what retribution he could. It’s at this point that the ‘seeing God’ bit kicks in.
A realization of the love and goodness of God provides a yardstick by which to measure what the Jews called holiness. These religious words come from everyday language. In English, ‘God’ derives from ‘good’. Holiness contains the idea of being whole or healthy - set apart in a way fit to relate to all that is good. The desire to ‘see God’ provides both the motivation to be loving and do good things as well as allowing those things to happen You don’t have to be religious to accept these ideas but one would like to think it helps.
For those who wanted to know God and also see someone in person, he made a remarkable claim. He said: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. I reveal the Father. Look at me and what I do, and you will see what God is like.”
The odd thing is that once seeing God in Jesus starts happening, you begin to see God in all kinds of people and in all kinds of places.
Song: Doing the Right Thing
Tune: Kingsfold, trad. coll. Lucy Broadwood, Harm. and arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, WOV 518. With movement.
Here’s another plea for righteousness by keeping pure in heart,
It’s easy to want when you’re down and low, than when worthy, high, and apart;
You need to know what to do to get rid of your most unwanted transgression,
It simply requires owning up to what's wrong with a “Sorry it’s my fault” confession.
A simple procedure, not hard to provide, but elusive beyond belief,
It applies to all people, high born and low, to the prostitute, killer and thief.
When we’re not seeing God, there’s stuff in the way keeping out God’s love to us,
And we don’t have to be all that good to come clean, with confesssion there needn’t be fuss.
The journey of life will have many such times to repent and start over again,
If we do it enough it becomes commonplace and that the novelty goes with the pain,
And seeing ‘God’s face’ has the added delight: When our rubbish is well cleared away,
We begin to see God in the faces of others, and in all kinds of places and ways.