Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Beatitudes 304: Makarios Are the Katharos in Heart"

Matthew 5:8

1 Peter 1: 18-25

Isaiah 1: 16-20

      This morning, we focus our collective attention on what is possibly the most demanding, if

not impossible to live out, of Jesus’ beatitudes:  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see

God.”  How many of us in all good conscience can say we’re pure in heart

      What comes to mind when we hear that word “pure?”  For some reason, I always think of Ivory
soap. In TV commercials, it was called 99.4% “pure;” so pure that it floats.  Now what a bar of soap

that floats has to do with purity, I don’t know.  If we call the Culligan man, we’re assured of buying

a water purification system which will leave water pure of even the tiniest traces of mercury, lead,

copper and benzene.  A skilled gemologist or jeweler looks for gemstones which are pure of imperfections,

and gold which is pure of alloys.  A metallurgist in a high-end steel producing facility aims to generate a ladle

of molten steel which is pure of dirty elements such as phosphorus and sulfur. These physical examples of purity

in our day have their parallels in the age and culture in which Jesus taught.

      The Greek word kaqaros (katharos) which translates “pure” was used in Jesus’ day when

speaking, for example, of clothing which was clean in contrast to clothing which was soiled. 

Katharos would have described wine or milk which wasn’t watered down; animals which were

perfect and without blemish; grain which was thoroughly winnowed from all chaff; armies which

had been ‘cleansed’ of inefficient and ineffective soldiers.  Katharos was also used to describe

persons.  For example, citizens who were completely clear of debt were called katharos.  A priest

who was ceremonially cleansed in order that he could enter the temple was considered katharos. 

Lepers who were cleansed of their disease by Jesus were instructed to go and show themselves to

the priest in order that they could be declared katharos; pure.

      In matters of morality, persons were considered katharos who were free from the moral and

ethical pollution of the world; free from defilement; free from guilt.  The word katharos was

often used in epitaphs to pay tribute to a person who, throughout his or her life, kept their reputation

squeaky clean; untarnished from any wrongdoing.  There is even a word in contemporary English which

derives from this Greek word.  Catharsis means cleansing the mind and body of all impurities.  So we

have a Greek word here which has a very broad scope of meaning and application. 

     When Jesus uses the word katharos in describing those who are blessed, for they will see God,

was He thinking of pure in common Greek usage?  Perhaps.  But He was also surely drawing upon

the Old Testament Scriptural use of the word which was most often associated with religious

ceremonial purity.  When purity is used in the Old Testament, it usually refers to the kinds of

foods and animals which may or may not be eaten.  A faithful, Law-abiding Jew was never to eat

anything which was defiled and unpurified in accordance with the Mosaic, Deuteronomic and

Levitical Laws.  Old Testament purity refers to that purity which comes from ceremonial washings

and from strict observance of ritual mandates.

      Just by way of illustration, according to the ritual laws of the Old Testament, before an orthodox Jewish

man could sit down to a meal, he had to wash his hands in a specified way; not in the interest of good hygiene,

but as the means of observing purification rites.  First of all, he had to hold each hand with the fingers pointing

upwards, pouring water over the hands until it reached at least up to the wrist.  Then he had to cleanse each palm

by rubbing it with the fist of the other hand.  Next he had to hold the hands with the fingers pointing downward,

and pour water from the wrist so that it ran down the inside of the hand and off by the fingertips.  That may sound

a bit silly, but for the orthodox Jew of Jesus’ time – and even for some strictly orthodox Jews today – to not observe

this method of cleansing would be considered a serious violation; unclean and impure.

      So when Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure”- the katharos – His Jewish audience would not

have thought of Ivory soap or the Culligan man, or even of soiled clothing or watered down wine.

They would have thought of pure in terms of ceremonial and ritual cleansing according to the

Law of Moses.  Those more Hellinized or Greek listeners -- they may have thought of clothes, wine,
critters, or armies.  Notice however that all of these understandings of pure – Jewish or Greek –

had one key thing in common.  They focused on the external; that which was on the outside.

      In this 6th beatitude, we find Jesus turning outside in this understanding of pure with two

additional words:  “Blessed are the katharos……. in heart.”  You see, for Jesus, purity was an

inward thing; an attitude of the heart, and of the mind, and of the soul.  From the orthodox Jewish

point of view in Jesus’ time, a person might have within his or her life all sorts of messy stuff –

impurities – like arrogance, pride, bitterness, envy, unclean thoughts and desires.  But as long as

that person observed the outward rituals, they were seen as pure.  I suppose it’s no different from

the person who faithfully goes to church – does all the right religious things for everyone to see –

but then lives a life away from church which is anything but religious or faithful.   Contrast that

with Jesus’ view that even if a person’s outward actions were impeccably correct, and even if

every detail of the Law of Moses was observed to the letter, that person might still be utterly

impure because what was inside wasn’t right. This is what Jesus meant when He went off on the    

religious leaders during His final days in Jerusalem, as recorded later in Matthew’s Gospel:  “Woe

to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the

outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.

So you on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawless-

ness.”  That kind of talk could get a guy crucified.  And so it did with Jesus; not because He was

wrong, but because He dared expose their bogus purity.

      Jesus teaches in this beatitude, makarios, blessed, blissful, divinely-favored are the katharos,

on the inside; those whose hearts, and minds, and souls are free of all impure motivation; all un-

righteous intent.  Blessed is the person whose insides are unblemished with sin; whose every

outside action is consistent with interior motives which are pure; free of selfishness, arrogance,

pride, greed, bitterness, hatred, unclean thoughts and desires.  Blessed is the one who is pure –

inside and out – for he or she will see God. 

      Whoa!  Who of us can claim all that of ourselves?  Now do you understand what I meant when

I said at the top of this message that this beatitude is possibly the most demanding, if not impossible, to achieve?

  That’s just the point.  We cannot achieve it, hard as we try.  Once when Jesus was laying upon His disciples some

hard teaching, in their astonishment and frustration, Matthew records that they asked, “Then who can be saved?” 

And what was Jesus’ response?  “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

      I’m considered a pretty decent guy.  Yet I’ll be the first to admit that my interior motives are

not always – too often are not – as pure as Christ demands.  I’ve known myself to act out of my

envy, my greed, my pride, my laziness, my self-centeredness.  My motives have not always been

pure and unstained.  If my getting to see the face of God is dependent on my own ability to

achieve purity – unblemished innards if you will – I’m, as they say, a dead duck.  For I cannot

achieve purity of heart any more than I can achieve perfect righteousness.  I’m certain others

share that struggle.  In fact, who of us could make such a claim of self-purity and self-righteousness?  Paul reminds us

in no uncertain terms that all have sinned; all have fallen short of katharos of heart; and in so doing, have fallen short

of the glory of God; have stopped short of seeing the face of God.  Paul puts the same idea another way in that great

love chapter from 1st Corinthians:  “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know

only in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  Let’s be reminded that there is only One who knows us fully, inside and out.

      Well, in spite of the seeming impossibility of satisfying this beatitude, there is grand news in the gospel of Christ. 

The demand of the 6th beatitude has been satisfied.  There is a Lamb; unblemished; perfectly clean; perfectly pure in

motive and in practice.  John the Baptist, on seeing this One, exclaimed:  “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away

the sins of the world!”  That “Lamb of God” is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  In the person of Jesus resided –

and resides – the katharos of heart which none of us can achieve, no matter how hard we try.  External rituals won’t do it.

  Ceremonial religion – however well-intended or executed – won’t do it.  The only purity of heart we can claim is the

purity of heart of the One to whom we commit our lives; the pure, unblemished Lamb of God.  The great thing about

all this is that in and through Christ, we have seen and will see the face of God; dimly now, but fully later.

      In the meanwhile, if we set our hearts on Jesus Christ, the prophecy of Isaiah we read earlier is

fulfilled in our relationship to Almighty God.  Isaiah writes:  “though your sins are like scarlet,

they will be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  The point

is, when we accept Christ as Savior; when we embrace His purity, and surrender to Him our

impurity, from God’s point of view, we are pure in heart, and shall receive the promise of seeing

God face-to-face.  It means entering through Jesus into the intimate fellowship of God’s love and

presence.  That is both the blessing and the promise of the 6th beatitude.  “Blessed are the pure in

heart, for they will see God.”  Amen.