A Reflection on Matthew 5:8
by Brother Ephrem
What does it mean to be “pure in heart?” or to actually “see God?”
We have read in the Hebrew Bible that Moses went to the top of a mountain to receive God’s commandments. These are God’s essential requirements regarding purity. They are also, it seems, a lesson in the impossibility of fulfilling these requirements on our own. Moses brought these down to God’s chosen people though, in this instance at least, Moses probably did not so much see God as hear Him while in “close proximity.” It has often been noted that Jesus, too, would go up on a mountainside to give his most famous sermon to the people. To me, it seems like it is not perhaps Jesus who is prefigured by Moses as the receiver of this new teaching but rather the crowds who came to see and hear this message Jesus gives to all. He did so that they (and we) might bring it down from the mountain and share it with the world. These followers of Jesus are receiving, in the fullness of God’s presence with them, a message focused less on outward obedience to the Law than on attitudes of the heart. That is where, as we know, the Law will now forever be written. God has chosen us all to be “pure in heart” and to “see God” if we can but receive Him into our hearts.
And isn’t this openness to receiving God’s Kingdom – and that Kingdom breaking into the world – at the very heart of the Beatitudes?
All of these “Attitudes of the Kingdom” are interrelated and reinforce one another. The sayings are interdependent. They are, in relationship to one another, illustrative of the movement of God’s Spirit at work. I can only, for example, imagine the fullness of God’s Kingdom as that “place” where purity of heart enables one to be a peacemaker or to endure persecution for the sake of righteousness.
This sermon, in its entirety, is what it is like to be the Kingdom in the world – serving God and one another in ongoing relationship and connectivity.
Like all the sayings of the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:8 is not descriptive of God’s Kingdom, as we see elsewhere in the Gospels and throughout the whole of scripture, but descriptive of “being” the Kingdom of God; not so much what IT is “like,” but what it is like to “be” IT.
We should be clear that, in scripture, the “being” of the Kingdom of Heaven and the “being” of God’s self are not identical but are in union – in relationship.
Nor is “the relationship itself” the entirety of this being of God’s self but rather it is reflective of the movement of God IN relationship. It is God’s Spirit at work in us and in history. The Beatitudes, then, can be considered to be an answer to the question, “Where does God reside?” and perhaps none more so than, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
It seems to me that God’s revelation of God’s self in Christ is unique among the narratives of the faith traditions of the world because it is the ongoing story of God reaching out for us rather than of our seeking after God. At the same time, there is a paradox. In order to be found one must, like Anna at the Temple, be “actively receptive.” We are called to be open to that which alone is Pure, to He who seeks after us. We are called to recognize God. With that understanding, I think a key to this saying may be found.
The Kingdom of God is, in part, a “state of being” and at the same time, a “state of doing” – of active receptivity to God’s movement in our lives. It is a state of trust in God. “Seeing” God, in this sense, is to be in a constant state of “seeking” God as well. To be pure in heart is to know that it is we who are being sought and to simply let God do our walking!
Thus, I will see and love God reflected in others and I will see and love God reflected in myself. Ours is the purity, through grace alone, of a love and trust of God manifest in a deep listening for the Spirit at work in our lives. We may see God everyday – the movement of God within us and in the world. God reaches out to us that we might have glimpses of His mystery (by His Word in scripture and through the revelation of Christ Jesus) of our God who is at once both completely present with us and entirely transcendent to us.
Where does God reside? On the mountain? In the tabernacle? The Temple? In Christ? The answer to all these, I believe, is “Yes.” But more to Jesus’ point here, the answer to the question is “IN YOU!” The Kingdom of God is within you because the Pure One is within you. You can see because He sees you first. You are the Kingdom. Now get to work and just be!
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
– Psalm 51:10