“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mathew 5.8)
The businesswoman looked worried. “The trouble is, I’ll never be pious, and in my line of work you need to be a shark not a saint.” She’d just been listening to the Beatitudes, those blessings Jesus pronounces on a bunch of very odd people. Sadly, she figured she’d never quite fit the bill.
Most commentators agree. Whether ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’, they judge the Sermon on the Mount as pie-in-the-sky stuff for the particularly saintly; worthy, but plain ‘impractical’ in the ‘real world’.
“Heaven’s important, but it can wait.” That’s how worried Angela put it. The truth is both tougher and more hopeful than that. The Beatitudes are not general pieties. They are addressed to real people Jesus knew. Those who were the nucleus of his new society.
We assume that ‘the pure in heart’ must have been a bunch of Holy Joes. Not so. What Jesus is saying (it’s even more stark in Luke 6) is something like this: “Look, you people have no power, no money, and most of you are considered unclean by the religious leaders. Don’t worry. God loves ‘losers’. Focus on that and you’ll understand exactly what God is really about.”
The ‘purity’ reference is a joke, you see. People’s physical and social condition got them labelled ‘impure’ in Temple and synagogue. But it’s what goes on in the heart and what comes out of your life that matters, says Jesus, not being healthy, wealthy and well-connected.
St Paul puts the same point to the Corinthians by talking about having “an undivided heart” — a way of life that offers everything to God. That means making our business practice, our politics and our relationships part of our life with Jesus, not just our ‘spiritual lives’.
According to the religious leaders Jesus opposed, people could only ‘see God’ if they were special, and God was mainly available at the end of the rainbow. “Nonsense!” says Jesus. “God’s kingdom, though not complete, is all around you if you’re seeing right. But those at the top look in the wrong places. God’s here with you lot.”
Do we want to join Jesus’ company of misfits? Will we risk not being ‘top of the pile’? Or do we prefer worldly power and the comfy belief that holiness is just for saints? There’s a question to ponder in boardroom and sanctuary alike.
Give us new eyes to see you at work in the most unlikely places.
And give us new hearts to get our priorities in line with yours.
Help us to receive you in the ordinary challenges of life
Not just when we feel especially ‘religious’.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.