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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8
When Moses was communing with God in preparation for delivering the tablets of the Law to Israel, he wanted to see the Lord face to face. But God’s response was telling, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). With this verse hovering in the back their minds, some of Jesus’ audience may have been thinking, “Wait! Did Jesus imply death is the reward for being pure in heart?”
I think it’s a stretch to say that Jesus thinks of death as a reward, the blessing we look forward to for cleansing our thoughts, feelings, and motivations. He came to defeat death as much as to get rid sin. I think Jesus’ goal with this beatitude is much more straightforward – to make it possible for us to relate to God face to face and still live. If the number one command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then clearly our Heavenly Father isn’t looking for a reason to smite us. He want those he can freely show love to…and who can love him back freely.
In a pithy way, Jesus outlines the necessary requirement to enjoy the fullest relationship with God possible–a heart free and clear of any moral impurity. Of course, none of us can claim to have so pure a heart; we are all sinners. Which is why Jesus offers his own heart on our behalf. His pure heart counts as ours (justification, for you theology nerds out there) while the Holy Spirit is busy purifying our hearts (sanctification).
Thus in this life we are given the chance to relate to God in a deeply intimate way, perhaps more deeply than you imagine or are ready for. So we trust the Holy Spirit to reshape us to not merely do what’s right, but to want to do what’s right (“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13). Our Loving Lord alone is able to make us into what he’s already credited to us spiritually. We may not be perfect yet, but our imperfections are hidden behind the cross; all the while our hearts are being molded day by day into the perfect image we see in Jesus Christ. So don’t be discouraged if you struggle with sin, temptation, or feeling like your in someone else’s skin when you happen to do something right. We are all works in progress. And the more you actually experience being pure of heart, the closer you’ll get to God. You may even get to see his face and live in this life…not just the next.
Merciful Father, make as pure as your already credit me as being in Christ Jesus so that I might grow closer to you than I dare dreamed before.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Like most boys, I grew up playing dumb games like “Mercy” with my friends. The goal is to grab hands and bend and twist your opponents hands until they cry out for you to stop (or vice versa). And the way you signal you give up is to say, “Mercy.” This probably isn’t the best introduction for a word that has so much compassion and love built into it. The game makes it seem like mercy is merely the whim of a bully who has already gotten what he wanted, not the loving intervention of someone in power who can prevent the worst from happening.
But God shows us mercy all the time. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, sinners that we are. In fact, when we cry out for God to stop our suffering at the hands of others doing evil to us, the fact that he hasn’t smitten them demonstrates his mercy to them. As St Paul notes, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). We are all spared some degree of just deserts precisely because God wants no one to perish, but for everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
So Jesus blesses those who show the same patience and long-suffering he does with us. In fact, showing mercy places you in a position of power. You have the power to hold a wrong against someone until they pay…or you can forgive and allow the Spirit to begin the process of convicting their hearts so they say their sorry, make amends as able, and pave the way to potential reconciliation. If we choose the route he (the One to whom all authority in heaven and earth belongs) has taken – to show mercy – then we will be granted mercy at least as much as we’ve had the chance to show it. And to me, the sinner I know I can be sometimes, I can’t imagine a better blessing than to know mercy to available when I invariably mess up.
Thank you, Father, for the gift of mercy and for giving me the chance to show mercy just as you’ve shown me. Amen.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
Righteousness. We tend to think of people who are self-righteous when we hear that word. Holier-tan thou, good two shoes, spiritual snobs, puritanical. Maybe even someone who’s “so heavenly-minded they’re no earthly good.”
But Jesus has a different perception of righteousness. Set-right-ness. Restored to the good way God intended it to be. Often righteousness and holiness are paired together, holiness being about how we live in relationship to God, and righteousness in relation to how we live with other people. Concepts like fairness, compassion, justice, and kindness come into play with righteousness.
In this day in age when civil injustice and discord are daily found in the news, it can seem like righteousness is a long way off. How much worse for those who bear the brunt of unrighteousness – counted guilty until proven innocent simply because of the hue of one’s skin; left out in the cold of financial stability because one isn’t part of the 1%.
But Jesus promises a day when those who deeply longing for justice, restoration, and goodness for all will finally be accomplished. Indeed, such a person is counted blessed now, despite lacking a world set right! Because in Christ, all things are counted restored and complete in him. He starts that restoration now through the gift of his Spirit. And one day he will share that restoration with all of creation when he returns.
Gracious Lord, thank you for the promise that all wrongs will one be set right in mercy. Amen.