The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begans, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...” Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”
Today’s Beatitude: The Pure In Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matt 5:8
As we’ve come to expect in our studies, our English words often fail to do justice to the Greek. In this case, the word is pure. In Greek it means: (1) clean in contrast to dirty, as in clean clothes, (2) without blemish or alloy, such as pure water or pure wine, (3) a person who has been cleared of debt or released from a duty he/she has fulfilled, (4) ritually fit to enter the temple, and (5) free from moral pollution and guilt.
The word Greek katharos, translated as pure was also used in the Old Testament Greek translation called the Septuagint. In context, we can add some levels of meaning: (1) integrity, (2) blameless against a charge of misconduct, (3) innocent in the sight of God, (4) the quality of prayer of a good person, and (5) free from sin.
The quick conclusion can be drawn that the word was used to describe the ritually or ceremonially pure, something or someone who followed the regulations of ritual purity. But it can also be applied to the moral realm of life. There it describes purity as a matter of life lived, the conduct of heart and mind.
In the Anglican tradition, especially the Anglo-Catholic tradition, we can speak of the Eucharist as being valid or invalid. In this tradition, for the Eucharist to be considered valid, (1) it must be performed by a properly ordained priest, (2) it must use an approved prayer form, meaning priests nor parishes can’t just make up their own and use them, and (3) the Gospel must be read, to name but three. The Roman Church has a much longer list. These are examples of ritual purity.
It is likely Jesus is not emphasizing this meaning, but the other, that is, no tainting or mixture. In that sense the Beatitude can be read, Blessed are those whose motives are absolutely unmixed, whose thoughts, motives, and desires are genuine and sincere. This may make this Beatitude the most demanding one, according to Barclay. This Beatitude requires honest self-examination, followed by a sense of humility. Our motives are seldom pure. We might serve in a soup kitchen, because “we’ll get more out of it than” those who eat, but is this the purpose of service? Even Paul, late in life, described himself as the “chief of sinners.” Can anyone attain to this? “With God’s help,” we pray in our baptismal vows.
What is the bliss of the one who strives and obtains such purity, having been made right by God in Christ? Nothing less that a vision of God! In Jesus’ time, to see your monarch was a powerful gift. In our time, it’s akin to seeing the president or some national hero--forever thrilling and memorable.
On one level, this promise to see God can be thought of as to somehow understand fully God’s nature. As Paul said, “Now I see through a glass darkly; then I will see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know even as I’m known.” (I Cor 13:12) This idea describes a new level of intimacy with God, surpassing any intimacy we’ve ever known.
We can now state the Beatitude this way: O the bliss of the person whose heart has been cleansed by the Spirit, whose motives, thoughts, and desires are unmixed. They will be given nothing less than a vision of God.