Monday, June 20, 2011

Blessed Are The Pure In Heart – SOTM #10

It is estimated that about three-fourths of our medical terminology has its origins (roots) in the ancient Greek language. The Romans, whose civilization followed, and to a large degree was Hellenized by Greek language and culture, simply carried the Greek terms over into their medical vocabulary, Latinizing the spellings where there was no Latin equivalent for a Greek character.

Of course, Greek terms slip into our language in other areas than medicine, but with nothing like the influence they lend to our medical dictionary. This all works to great advantage for the scholar of New Testament Biblical texts in that a great many words encountered in the Bible have already become quasi-familiar from other contexts. Often, those with no understanding of Koine Greek can hear the connection with modern usage when they encounter the Greek term, either spoken or in a concordance.

Such is the case with the beatitude we study here, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” In this short beatitude there are three Greek terms familiar to modern medicine, katharos (pure), kardia (heart), and optanomai (see). A cathartic is a medicine or a process to purge and purify some organ(s) of the body. Cardio is a prefix which, combined with other terms, describes aspects of the heart. Ophthalmology, of course, is the science of the eye and, consequently, of sight.

Jesus was not thinking medically when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” - he was simply using the vocabulary of his day – but the juxtaposition of the words for “purity,” “heart,” and “sight” give us an opportunity to think of them in terms of their present usage. In purely medical terms the catheterizing (cleansing) of one’s heart would not have any obvious or direct effect upon their ability to see, or what they were able to see. So, in a literal sense, Jesus’ words are nonsense.

In our day, though, just as in Jesus’ day, the heart stands in for the mind and the emotions. Who knows where the mind and emotions really reside? Scientists are probing the brain, hoping to find the answer to that question, suggesting that human emotions, human motivations, and even human morality, may be nothing more that electro-chemical reactions in the brain. And what if they are right? Would it negate what we believe about humanity’s special place in creation as the one creature made in the image of God? I think not. We’ve always knows that the “heart” determines behavior. Jesus said that, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” A corrupt heart devises and speaks corruption. A pure heart devises and speaks good. The contents of the heart (its electro-chemical makeup, perhaps) is malleable. Jesus was appealing, in the Sermon on the Mount – not just with this beatitude, but through the whole sermon – for a change of heart, from one that chose to live by the rules of this world to one that is subject to the rules of the kingdom of heaven. And as an encouragement to seek that kind of heart purity, he promises that it will allow the one with a pure heart to see what those whose hearts are impure can never see, God Himself.

And how does a pure heart improve our sight? Jesus promised it would. He said, “They shall see God.” It works in two ways: 1) by bringing the pure hearted into the kingdom of God where God is ever visible, ever on display in the lives of God-seekers, and 2) by the cathartic cleansing of the mind and emotions allowing the pure hearted to see the beauty of righteousness where before only self-interest was on display.

A clean heart sees God. There is, though, a part for us to play in this; we must want to see God. If that is our desire – our hunger and thirst – God’s Spirit will teach us the ways of the kingdom, purifying the desires of our heart, allowing us to see God.

Keep reading in the Sermon on the Mount. You will find things there you wish you had, attitudes and behaviors you wish were yours. Hunger and thirst after them and you will be filled, and, being filled, you will see God. You will find there things you abhor in your heart and mind. Allow the Spirit of God to remove them and you will see, in their place, the hand, and mind, and will, and face of God.

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