Blessed are the Pure in Heart
The Pure in Heart
2 Timothy 2:22-26
Our covenant with God has been broken.
Our Covenant with God has been broken
Trouble in the Text
4 “Hear, O Israel: dThe LORD our God, the LORD is one.2 5 You eshall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And fthese words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 gYou shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 hYou shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 iYou shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
But the point is not to offer a list of what sort of people God normally blesses. The point is to announce God’s new covenant.
In Deuteronomy, the people came through the wilderness and arrived at the border of the promised land, and God gave them a solemn covenant. He listed the blessings and the curses that would come upon them if they were obedient or disobedient (chapter 28). Now Matthew has shown us Jesus, coming out of Egypt (2:15), through the water and the wilderness (chapters 3 and 4), and into the land of promise (4:12–25). Here, now, is his new covenant.
The setting brings to mind both Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law from God and gave it to the people, and Mount Zion, from which King David ruled according to God’s law. Jesus’ posture also communicates authority. He sits, like a venerated teacher among his students or a rightful king among his subjects. Jesus is presented as an unrivaled authority concerning the law and the proper authority within the coming kingdom of heaven.
“Pure in heart” refers to the condition of the inner core of a person, that is, to thoughts and motivation, and hence anticipates the internalizing of the commandments by Jesus in the material that follows in the sermon.
The Beatitudes are primarily about the character of God and only secondarily about the character of Christians. Because God behaves in the way God does, a person would be foolish not to act in the way the Beatitudes recommend. That the behavior of Christians so often fails to conform to the Beatitudes is a sign not of moral weakness but of a lack of faith. We simply do not trust Jesus, his words, or his deeds. We do not really believe that God will bless the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. In other words, we do not think it is sensible to behave in the way Jesus did, because we do not believe that God is really the way he describes.
We are purified by Jesus.
We are purified by Jesus.
8* “Pure in heart” or a “pure heart” is a Jewish expression that comes from the psalm piety of the OT.114 What is meant is an undivided obedience to God without sin. According to Jewish usage, “heart” designates not an area inside a person but the center of human wanting, thinking, and feeling. Since the expression is connected to an established Jewish usage, we may not read into it an anticultic polemic. Judaism has always—along with the more narrow cultic usage—spoken of the person’s purity in a comprehensive sense.115 Matthew also is aware of a holistically understood purity that, while relativizing the cultic area, in no way abolishes it (cf. 5:23–24*; 23:25–26*: πρῶτον). Even the recourse to Ps 23:4* LXX—the psalm that may have been sung upon entering the temple—calls attention to the inner unity of the purity idea rather than to a polemic against the cult.116 As in the other beatitudes, the promise is meant eschatologically. Like early Christianity, Judaism hopes that God, who in this world was visible only to Moses (Num 12:8*; Deut 34:10*), in the eschaton will be able to be seen face-to-face.117 Then all remoteness from God and uncertainty will disappear.
With a clear voice Jesus uttered one last word from the cross: tetelestai (John 19:30). The papyri throw great light on this word. If a promissory note were paid, the one holding the note wrote “telelestai” across it. A deed to property was not in effect until it was dated and signed. When this was done, the clerk wrote “tetelestai” across it.
Another example of its use was when a father sent his son on a mission. The son was not to return until he had performed the last act of the mission. When he did return from a successful mission, he used tetelestai to report it.
What do these meanings say to us? In eternity the Son gave the Father a promissory note that He would pay the price for humanity’s redemption (see Heb. 10:5–7). On Calvary the note was paid-in-full. Tetelestai! The Son reported His completed mission to the Father. Tetelestai! Perhaps when the waiting hosts in heaven heard of the completed work of Jesus heaven rang with it. TETELESTAI! And the Father smiled His approval.
This beatitude opens up a vast wealth of Christian self-understanding and Christian hope. It would be a mistake simply to reject as illegitimate everything that is exegetically not justified in the forum of the biblical text. It is rather part of the biblical texts’ own power that they themselves are able to open up new dimensions in new people. However, these new dimensions and new hopes still must be engaged in a constant conversation with the old declaration of the text. Based on the original meaning of the text one must constantly make sure that purity of heart and vision of God do not lead to a flight from the world or a private piety of the religiously gifted person.131 It must express itself as obedience to God in the world and as hope for a future vision of God that is more than the individual’s own private deep experience. The sixth beatitude stands in a context that speaks of interpersonal relationships, and it does not intend to remove people from those relationships and lead them into religious self-sufficiency. In my judgment the interpretation of the Reformation has come especially close to the meaning of the Matthean text.
This psalm attests all the ideas needed for the beatitude in SM/Matt 5:8*. This does not mean, however, that the beatitude merely “quotes” Psalm 24. Rather, the beatitude confirms ideas that were commonly accepted in Judaism at the time.
In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers.
The Beatitudes provide an eschatological vision of the way the world will be when God’s rule is reestablished, at the coming of the kingdom of heaven. In fact, the use of the present tense implies not only that the future reign of God is guaranteed, but also that it is already real. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, its presence can already be felt and seen in the world.