The following is part of a series of articles.
It is a satire.
The idea behind this series is simple: What if Jesus and his "blessed" statements - his Beatitudes - were being "collaborated" on by a modern Christian Public Relations Consultant?
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU, JESUS! AND IT'S SUCH GOOD NEWS! Like, I'm talking gospel-good.
What is it, you ask? Well, today, you will be super pleased to know that we have something happening here with this statement of yours that we haven't had happen before. And that something... is this:
With this one, we don't technically need to change anything about
your words in order to keep seeing things the way we already do.
Isn't that great? Let me just say that again: We don't need to change anything in order for us to see something different in your words than what you're saying... Son of man, I couldn't be more excited. It saves so much time!
Of course, we can totally keep collaborating with you on what it means, and I can continue to walk you through why we've figured out some ways of doing things we've found to be more convenient... But, unlike the others, there are no automatic red flags for us in the words themselves. I gotta tell you, that's a load off! Some of the others were just so awkward until we fixed them. But this one here? Let's just say I feel reinvigorated. I was starting to think it might be best if we walked away from the Beatitudes entirely (the way we do some of your other stuff), but you made a believer out of me again, Jesus. You did good on this one - it's just general-sounding enough that we can see what we want to see in it without getting too bogged down in anything tricky. And we've done such a good job of redefining a lot of these sorts of simple terms that your meaning is already obscured to the average Christian! That's exactly what we're going for, Jesus. It sure saves us a lot of work!
I guess it's not always the words themselves that are always the problem... So today, I just want to deal with what you meant by them, and then see if we can't work together to find something better.
So "pure in heart," huh? That sounds so nice. It just feels good, you know? You might even say this is the most foundational statement you made of the bunch, since how can anyone be or do any of the other things without this being the case? ...And I'm sure we agree on that much... But when it comes to the phrase itself, it might be best left alone in our time. Just kept as something kind of nice and flowery - something for people to look at and get a vague sense of that old timey faith of the American variety. When I see "pure in heart," I'd like to think you just mean "saved, but still trying to keep the rules, of course." But then I get to thinking about the way your Jewish people used words like "pure" or "clean," and how that had to do with ceremonial codes, and Moses' laws concerning defilement. And then it strikes me that you were drawing a sharp contrast to the Law when you said this - because the Law concerned outward appearances and rituals and technicalities concerning the body...
...And yet, here you are making it about the heart.
Once again, it's possible we're rocking the boat needlessly with stuff like that. It reminds me of your big, dramatic "woes" you pronounced on the Scribes and Pharisees (we should talk about those sometime as well, probably), and how you tell them their focus on the external is useless unless it stems naturally from a cleansing within... Problem is, that is so much harder for, say, my church leadership team to figure out with people. The religious culture of your day saw God's blessing as being with those who were ceremonially clean or privileged to become so. This of course marginalized and made outcasts of a lot of other people: anyone not Jewish, women in general, the sick and handicapped, lepers, shepherds, etc.
So when you say "the pure in heart are blessed," you're upending that whole system... And you're kind of making it hard for religion to maintain its hierarchy and designations in the process, because you're challenging the in-grouping and out-grouping we love to do towards everyone. Are you sure that's a good idea? Because it doesn't seem like you thought it through.
I may not agree with all the people marginalized by the Jewish system in your time, but I still think we Christians need some room for that structure! I mean, sure, THEY were a bit weird in who they picked on... but WE have settled into much better ideas of who to pick on! Problem solved! The real thing at issue here is that we need to be realistic! You can't just say "God's solidarity is with those determined by something only God can see (the heart)." And you can't just say "anyone with the heart for it has perfect access to God apart from temples and services." Where would that leave us as Christian authorities? You have to throw us a bone here!
It's like you told the Samaritan woman at that well (which is also great stuff so long as we keep it vague and don't get too deep into the meaning of it): "Those who worship will will worship in spirit and in truth." You're shutting out the temple as being the most important thing there. Are you not aware that, to this day, we still really love our temples? We still think of church as the place we go to in order to be close to God. We still name our churches as though they were temples. We still refer to our church building as "God's house," for crying out loud... And none of that stuff is something we want to change. So if you're expecting your words to hit us in a way which makes us question those things we hold so dear? ...I wouldn't hold my breath.
The point is, we need to preserve some room for blessing to be on the "pure" in all the typical Christian ways. Things we can see and recognize, Jesus. Like a youth group kid who got rid of all his "secular" music, and only watches mindless movies with easy ratings, and who doesn't swear and always shows up on Sundays, and who feels really horrible all the time whenever he slips and does anything we've deemed wrong... NOW THAT IS SOME PURITY WE CAN GET BEHIND! Or how about "purity rings" worn by Christian girls all over to remind them every day that all that matters about them is their sexuality? How about "purity balls?" Again, that is the kind of purity we're after. The kind we can see. Where your idea of the "pure in heart" sounds nice, our idea of "the pure in external behaviors we deem essential regardless of heart" is certainly better. The sorts of things we're looking for are way easier to evaluate and control than all the stuff you're thinking of when you talk about a pure heart transforming a person anyway. The "reckless love, compassion, generosity, speaking the truth to power and making yourself of no reputation for the sake of those on the margins" stuff? Save it for the missions trips, Jesus! We have some regular life to attend to here.
Anyway, I think you need to be careful when you veer too much toward making things about the posture of a heart rather than the outward observances and technicalities we've worked so hard to cultivate. That's all.
We have always liked seeing God's blessing with the ritually pure people who do a good job of keeping our rules. I don't see that changing any time soon.
Speaking of "seeing," we should address your "for they will SEE God" part of this one as well. I had a hunch about what you were thinking... but I also had a hunch that we don't need it to be understood that way.
You'll never believe this - I actually dusted off the old language study tools and looked up the original Greek word for "see" because I wanted to be sure. I remember from my studying days that a lot of simple English words like "see" can come from a large number of Greek words.
I was a bit disappointed to find that the language materials only confirmed my suspicion: the word you're using means "to gaze with eyes wide open at something remarkable." And you're putting that out there, as something which comes from just a heart posture in the here and now? Yeah... we can't have that. We can't have people expecting to see God like that now... You'd be placing that level of vision outside the control or approval of Christianity and church services, which we already touched on. I'm fine with people catching a glimpse of God during my sermons or during the music or whatever - but never so much so that they don't still believe they need more us to see more of you. For another thing, you don't want people getting too hopeful for the present anyway. As you probably know, we try to hope more in the future only. We see the kingdom less as "at hand" and more as "someday when we're all dead."
That's why we like to take the promise "they will see God," and kind of just make it about "going to heaven" or something.
So it's like I said earlier: Your words are fine if we leave them alone and just sort of gloss over them with people. But if you start thinking about them or their implications too much, they are way too inclusive and universal. It boxes us out from what we love doing so much in taking on the role of determining who's in the club and who's not. And when we keep that role to ourselves, well... that's how we get to verify who sees God and who doesn't. You're the VIP in this club, Jesus! You don't want just anyone hanging around your VIP table, right! It's all you, man. All for your glory.
Well, I didn't think it would come to this, but I guess we should just go ahead and fix the words themselves too, just in case anyone starts poking around, looking for what they mean:
#BLESSED are the people who are "saved" but still trying really hard in themselves to keep the rules anyway, for they will go to heaven when they die. And #BLESSED are the promise keepers and outwardly pure within and according to religious culture, for they will set the agenda on how everyone else is supposed to see God... and by "see God," once again we mostly mean "go to heaven," and not so much "become radically, jaw-droppingly, eyes-wide aware of the Divine presence all around them."
...So much for what I said earlier! That was harder than I thought.
It actually ended up being more work than the others! But at least we got through it. Maybe we'll catch a break with the next one... I'll see you then!