The Sermon on the Mount: Blessed at the Single-Hearted, For They Shall See God

The vice that seemed to irritate Jesus the most was hypocrisy, that is, to pretend to be something on the outside that did not correspond with the inner self.  More than once Jesus chastised the Pharisees, the epitome of those preoccupied with the minutiae of the Law, for being among those who pay lip service to God, but whose hearts were far from God.  The Pharisees condemned Jesus because he cured the blind and the lame on the Sabbath.  They were rankled because he welcomed sinners and ate with them.  Jesus’ attitudes and values scandalized them.

In this Beatitude, Jesus urges those who choose to be his disciples to be single minded in their desire to do God’s will in everything they say and do.  Let no thing hold God’s place in their lives.  We hear the phrase “pure in heart” and more than likely think the Beatitude speaks to purity in the flesh, that is, to sexual purity.  Of course a right-ordered sexuality is apt here.  But Jesus is not casting negative aspersions on the flesh.  He is not saying that flesh is innately sinful.  Nor is he saying that one can only please God in the spirit.  There have been those down through the ages that have taught that the flesh is sinful and that “saints” are called to flee the flesh and live in extreme asceticism.  Saints should scourge the body, fast excessively, and live in isolation, cut off from human commerce.

That is not what Jesus taught.  If we go back to the beginning as it is described in the Book of Genesis, the proclamation is made that everything God creates is good.  “Let us make human kind in our image and likeness.”  Man and woman are at the apex of creation.  In that innocence are told to go forth and multiply.  Sexuality is not an evil, but an essential part of what it means to be human.  Flesh is not evil.  Man and woman are innately good in God’s eyes.  Flesh is not evil.  We believe that the Word became flesh and continues to live in and among human kind.

Certainly Jesus calls his disciples to live right-ordered lives when he says that the single-hearted are blessed.  All the senses are to be right-ordered.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on? (He declared all foods clean.)  He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles that one.  For from within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile.”

Each of the capital sins focuses our attention on how the senses can be disordered.  Lust rises out of disordered sexuality and demeans the other.  Gluttony results in appetites out of control.  Gluttons eat too much or drink too much alcohol.  Addictions are forms of gluttony.  Greed destroys perspective regarding wealth.  Legend puts King Midas before us as one who was destroyed by lust for money.  Scripture does not say that money is the root of all evil.  Rather it says that love of money is that root.

Sloth puts the human in perpetual idle, lazing, and doing nothing productive.  St. Paul raged at the slothful and told the rest of the community that they should not feed those who do not work.  It’s important that we note that Paul is talking about those who choose not to work.  There is a communal responsibility to attend to the needs of the poor, including those who cannot find work.

Envy causes one to lust after someone else’s goods, making one willing to do anything to make the envied object one’s own.  Envy drove Cain to kill his brother Abel.  We know that pride comes before the fall.  The prideful one sees himself as superior to and better than the other, and so denies the other’s dignity and worth.

Blessed are the single-hearted, they shall see God.  The single-hearted, or pure in spirit, live right-ordered lives.  They do not give themselves over to the capital sins.  They live in right-ordered relationship with others, recognizing others as their brothers and sisters that, like them, are created in the image and likeness of God, and like them, are the beloved of God.  The pure in spirit are also single-minded in their desire to see all people live in justice and peace and abhor anything that will make them subservient.  Again, Jesus is the model.

The Jews dreaded ritual impurity incurred by the coming into contact with someone deemed to be impure.  One who became tainted by such contact was ritually impure and could not enter temple worship before being cleansed and declared clean by the priest.  Jesus turns that attitude upside down when he reaches out to the shunned and through his healing and forgiving touch draws them back into community.  In quick succession in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper, a desperate (Gentile) centurion, a hemorrhaging woman, and a dead girl.  He touches each one of these people who, in their condition, the law said should have rendered Jesus impure through such contacts.  But Jesus not only does not accept that impurity, but also, by touching them and declaring them healed, restores them to a pure state.

Then there are the “shocking” guests he welcomed to his table.  He shared meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, and generic sinners.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” became one of the key charges leveled against Jesus that called for his crucifixion.

Notice that in each of the encounters, it wasn’t Jesus who changed, but those who yielded to his transforming touch.

Each one of us who knows what it means to be a sinner, that is, who recognize that all of our appetites are not quite right ordered, must come to understand that we, too, need that healing encounter with Jesus.  That happens when we let the light of Christ shine on our lives and so help us to see not only what we are, but also, what we might become through Christ’s grace.

Each of those who gives his/her life over to one or other of the deadly sins, in Christ sees how that life can be changed.  That is when imitation of Christ becomes the goal of living.  At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples who have been searching.  As they approach, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?”  They respond, “Master, where do you live?”  Jesus says, “Come and see.”  They respond to the invitation and stay with Jesus that night.

Following Jesus on The Way necessarily involves learning what it means to imitate him.  That imitation always will result in humble service of the poor and others deemed by the rest of society to be outcasts.

It is paramount that the Church imitates Jesus in this attitude.  Rather than judging and condemning, the message must continually go out loudly and clearly that all are welcome here in this assembly.  Pope Francis responded to a question about a class of people by saying, “Who am I to judge?”  That response was heard around the world.  Sad to say, the Church in former times was known for burning people at the stake.  Excommunication is a response some would like to see exercised – probably the same ones who agree with capital punishment.  The pope’s attitude is Christ-like.  So ought ours to be.

One final note on this subject.  Notice that when Jesus calls the disciples, they have to leave everything and follow him.  In order to enter that purity of heart, that single-heartedness, we have to be willing to let go of whatever stands in the way of our experiencing God.  That takes us back to those capital sins.  We must let go of those addictions and so find the freedom of the children of God.  Then we experience the happiness that Jesus said would result from that purity of heart.

And then there will be peace.

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