In the Good News story as Matthew tells it, we are told of a series of “woes” that parallel the blessings that we’ve been talking about. Jesus is in his final days in Jerusalem. The religious leaders are working hard to trap him so they can have him executed. They ask him questions so they can catch him teaching false things about God and Jesus responds with stories about how the people of God should live.
While teaching and speaking throughout Jerusalem, in earnest and knowing his time with them is short, Jesus turns to his disciples and warns them about using their leadership abilities for their own benefit rather than to lead people into a relationship with God. Jesus cautions his followers about letting others put them on a pedestal and says,
Matthew 23:11-12, The Message
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. but if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
This statement brings to light what Jesus means when he says, “blessed are the pure in heart” as most of us are familiar with this beatitude.
To be pure in heart is to know who we re at the core of our being, deep down below all of the layers we have developed over our life to protect ourselves. We all have these layers, whether you consider yourself like an onion or a parfait. When we do the hard work of first recognizing them and then peeling them back, we come to know ourselves as God knows us: the beloved child created and designed to love and be loved. This is the image of God in each of us.
And when we come to see it in ourselves, we see it in everyone else, too.
Jesus tells the religious leaders of his day that polishing the outside of their cup while letting the inside stay filthy is not how to lead or how God calls all of us to live. We have to do the inside work, so that our true motives are to do all that we do for the love of God and our neighbors.
The blessing comes when we do the inside work, with God’s help and the transformation of the Holy Spirit, because that is what enables us to see the world without all the layers we’ve put in place that blur our vision. To have a pure heart is to see the world with eyes of compassion as Jesus did.