The Pure See God
“There is a specter haunting our secular age, ‘the specter of meaninglessness’.”
A philosopher has said this about society. Specter is a good word for it. It is like a fog. In some parts of the country, dense fogs are said to roll in in a matter a minutes. The sun rises but its rays are hardly discernible. The whole city is cast in grey. Meaninglessness, drudgery, and doubt are the same. They are a presence, like the fog that haunts our culture today. Of course, this presence comes from our hearts. The pure in heart shall see God, because only the pure in heart can see anything. We Christians have to get serious about purity. Purity lifts the fog in our hearts and purity opens our eyes to the beauty of God.
This is the message in our gospel today. Jesus enters Capernaum, where he meets a centurion with faith.
“Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed…When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mat. 8:8-10).
What is it about his faith? Why should Jesus be amazed? Gold, riches, and kingdoms are shadows in his eyes. Yet the faith of this man gives Christ something worth marveling at.
The centurion has incredible insight. He says to Christ: “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (v.9). It sounds logical enough, but it is much more than that. How did he recognize Christ as an authority in the first place? So many others stood before Christ, but they could not see God. They were blind like men stumbling in fog. Yet, somehow, the centurion recognized God. There was something different about him, so much so, that God marvelled.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8).
There was once an old man, tending to his thoughts on his front porch, when a minivan pulled up alongside. The window rolled down and a voice called, “Good morning sir! We have just moved in. How is the neighborhood here? What are the people like?” The old man greeted him, “Good morning. Tell me, what were the people like where you used to live?” “Oh! They were wonderful, good people,” the traveler answered. “You will love this neighborhood too,” the neighbor replied. “These are also good people.” A little time goes by and another car pulls up, “Good morning! We have just moved in. How is the neighborhood here? What are the people like?” The old man greets him, “Tell me, what were the people like where you used to live?” The traveller sighs, “They were horrible. Thank goodness, we are so glad to leave.” The old man returns, “Ah, I’m sorry to say it. These people are no good. You will not like this neighborhood either.”
Take this parable to the level of faith. Some look up at the stars and trees and see meaninglessness. They murmur in their hearts the words told by atheist Richard Dawkins: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Others, meanwhile, look up at the stars and flowers and marvel. They see God in and behind everything. They murmur in their hearts: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1). How can two people look at the same thing and see something so different?
We have to be careful judging a heart. We cannot know what is in another person’s heart despite whatever they are struggling with. We can, however, look into our own hearts and challenge our selves. “The pure shall see God.” Are we pure? Where are our impurities? What can we do to clean house a little? When faith grows stagnant, it dies. Every little impurity, every time we give into sin, it opens our heart to the fog. Gradually, the fog floods and chokes the light, but by that time you do not even notice. We get used to the fog, little by little, and never know what we are missing. So we need to get real with our selves and aspire for purity.
The Book of Wisdom makes a profound statement about evil.
“The worship of infamous idols is the reason and source and extreme of all evil” (Wis. 14:27).
Generally speaking, none of us would recommend worshipping idols. You hear about idols and you imagine a scene like in Spielberg’s “Temple of Doom.” All the natives are bowing down and chanting to some dark stone image. That is just not the kind of thing we do. In reality, worshipping idols is more commonplace than we imagine. It means loving something more than you love God. This scripture calls worshipping idols the source of all evil, “the reason and source and extreme of all evil”. It takes some explaining. Romans chapter 1 lays it out:
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (v. 18-19).
God is angry when we “suppress truth in unrighteousness.” In other words, unrighteousness, impurity, is more than a just a thing we do. Sin squashes truth. It makes us stupid. The next line is potent: “what may be known of God is manifest in them.” This means everyone believes in God. We all know God. We may not know him personally, but we know he exists. St. Paul hammers this out in the next verse:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are with out excuse” (v. 20).
None of us are blameless. God has revealed himself to us again and again since we first opened our eyes in our mother’s arms. Why then can the world be so dark? How can life look so meaningless at times? Why do we spend so much time in fog?
“Because all though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened…Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness” (v. 21-23).
This is the point. Our hearts grow dark when we stop glorifying God. When our affections, our devotions, are not cast on God, the world becomes black. Jesus Christ is the light. He has come to let us walk in light, to enjoy the light, to savor and revel in light. That is why there has never been a message more wonderful than God’s invitation to us to walk in purity.
The centurion made God marvel. He had faith. Where did he get his faith: from purity. The centurion spent his life evaluating his decisions, challenging himself, and pursuing purity in each daily decision. Purity is answer to the specter of meaninglessness in our times. Purity is the sunshine that banishes the fog. If we strive to be pure, we will see God.