Monday, May 14, 2012

Purity Of Heart (part 2 of 2)

Continuing our quest for knowledge, and specifically, to ascertain the defining characteristics of those that are “pure in heart,” who are also those that will “see God,” we move forward in the sermon to the sixth chapter.  It is there that we will encounter the second and only other use of “heart” in the course of this dissertation from the mountain.  This usage will prove to be quite beneficial in our quest.  It will not only impart knowledge, but also, along with so much else being said here, inform our ethical, practical, and performance-related mandate in association with the Christian’s charge to be the place where heaven and earth come together---God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. 

Interestingly enough, the “Lord’s Prayer,” from which these words of God’s will, earth, and heaven are lifted, constitute a portion of the preface to the second presentation of the heart.  It is worth mentioning that, just as Jesus’ sermon began with a mention of the kingdom of heaven (5:3), so too does Jesus’ prayer include a mention of the kingdom of heaven within its opening statements, as Jesus says “Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honored, may Your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:9b-10). 

From there, we do not have to travel a great number of verses before we hear the context for Jesus’ mention of the heart.  Beginning in the nineteenth verse of this same chapter we read “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal” (6:19-20).  Given Jesus’ clear understanding that it is God’s desire that His will be performed on earth as in heaven, and given the context of the kingdom of heaven come to earth that is everywhere present in Matthew’s narrative as well as the foundational structure for this particular sermon, Jesus is not drawing a hard and fast dichotomy between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm.  Indeed, as it His intention to establish God’s kingdom on earth, the seeming dichotomy between earth (usually conceived of as the physical realm that we occupy) and heaven (usually conceived of as the aspired for final destination of Christians) actually disappears. 

It is paramount to hear Jesus speaking from within His own culture and its conceptions, rather than from the position of a religious culture that is overly and improperly defined by Greek (primarily Platonic) thoughts of the separation of the physical from the spiritual.  Given the Jewish hope that God would establish His reign through His Messiah, restoring His creation as an attendant feature of the establishment of His kingdom, we would correctly hear Jesus speaking of earth and heaven in terms of past and future.  Treasures on earth would be linked to the old world and the old way of doing things prior to the coming of God’s kingdom that is heralded by the presence of Jesus, whereas treasures in heaven are linked to the new way of doing things, in association with the recognition of God’s rule having come to earth.

It is following this talk of treasure, and its earthly (pre-kingdom of God) usage versus its heavenly (kingdom having come) usage, that we hear Jesus speak of the heart.  He says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21).  Yes, the disposition of our treasure reveals the disposition of our heart.  Clearly then, purity of heart is linked to the accumulation and disposition of treasure in ways that are commensurate with the establishment and extension of the kingdom of heaven.  With this in mind, Jesus goes on to explain that “The eye is the lamp of the body” (6:22a).  The eye, of course, having primacy in the building of our desires to accumulate treasure and our recognition of the most appropriate, kingdom-minded ways to liquidate that same treasure (treasure being primarily money and possessions, though time must certainly be under consideration).  If we have that thought in mind, it is understandable to hear Jesus continue to speak about treasure and its proper place, as He goes on to say “If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (6:22b).  A healthy eye views the world through the lens of the kingdom of heaven, while the call of God’s people, historically and for all time, to a light to the nations, does not drift too far from our conscientious consideration.  With these thoughts in mind, we hear Jesus continue on to say “But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in your is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (6:23)

Now, how can we be sure that Jesus is connecting His thoughts as presented in verses twenty-two and twenty-three with the thoughts of treasure and the heart in verses nineteen through twenty-one?  Well, we are assured of this when we reach verse twenty-four, which says that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money” (6:24).  Clearly, money (treasure and that which we use to acquire possessions) is an issue of the heart.  One who is pure in heart---the one who will see God---is one that rightly uses their money in service of God’s kingdom purposes.          

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