The Beatitudes: blessed are the pure of heart.

Image: Golden Vision, Makoto Fujimura

The sixth beatitude in the sermon on the mount is,

“Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.”

Purity is an idea that was very familiar to 1st century Jews. There were all sorts of things you should and should not do to ensure your purity. Rituals, sacrifices, behaviours. Do this, and not that.

So for Jesus’ audience there is this very clear set of rules that define whether or not one is pure. And everyone was supposed to put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that their external lives measured up to this notion of purity.

But Jesus statement here – blessed are the pure in heart – invites a different consideration. This gets at the heart of what Jesus goes on to say in the sermon on the mount… All throughout this sermon he says things like “if you think you’re awesome because you don’t do XYZ… you should probably realise that you’re thinking it, which isn’t really any better.”

At least some of what Jesus points out here is that there can be a big gap between the external reality we project, and the internal reality we live with all the time. This is not just a religious trait but a very human one.

Sometimes this is an incredibly helpful and protective instinct. I don’t need to show you every time I feel pain, grief, loss, shame, fear. This is a healthy and protective mechanism. If we had no external management, no external regulation, then the world would be a very unsafe place.

But the challenge with this incredibly necessary self-management process, is that we can also learn to manipulate our external regulation. We realise that if we manage the projection of ourselves in certain ways, people will like us more. People will treat us differently. We will make more or less progress. We will fit in or not fit in. And so we develop all sorts of strategies for managing this.

And what humanity has often done through religious practice is to develop a set of approved behaviours that we think will keep God happy, and others happy.

But what this has also allowed us to do, is to cultivate the gap between our external behaviours and our heart. It doesn’t matter too much what is going on “in here”, as long as we’re appropriately managing what is going on “out there.”

But Jesus starts flipping the system upside down. Not to start a new set of rules for managing external behaviours, but instead trying to invite us into a different way of seeing everything.

It’s our heart that matters.

Well that’s much less quantifiable. You can’t measure the purity of someone’s heart. You can’t ascertain the purity of someone’s motives. You can’t define through ritual and regulation the measure of a person’s love.

And Jesus says, that the pure in heart will see God.

Perhaps Jesus is inviting us into a reality which suggests that there is a profound connection between the cultivating of an honest and open heart, and the way we see reality around us as sacred, as holy, as filled with divine presence.

If the whole world is sacred, then maybe I don’t need as many rules and regulations to manage my behaviour. Because something will be happening in my heart as I engage in the world around me.

What would our days look like if we were less concerned with projecting the approved version of ourselves, and more concerned with living with eyes open to seeing the sacred and holy presence of God in each aspect of our everyday lives?

Rob Byrne