Take The Humble Path (Friday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8
What bugs you the most about Christians? You can ask this question to longtime Christians or new ones, skeptical seekers or ardent atheists, and you’ll likely get a similar answer: hypocrisy.
You know it. You’ve experienced it. You’ve likely practiced it. It comes from a Greek word that means “play-acting.” It’s about stage craft – playing a role on the outside, but not living it from your whole being. And Jesus was fairly merciless when it came to hypocrites. Matthew 23 is a tour de force against the hypocritical religious:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. “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 also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28
On the other hand, Jesus has a vision for wholeheartedness. It emerges in the one who comes to the end of herself, mourns the old, is humbled by the process, and grows in new longings for a life of grace and mercy. This person is pure of heart.
No, not squeaky clean. No, not ready to be sainted. No, not adorned with a halo. No, not perfect. Pure.
“She is a person of character of character consistency, a person who rings true whenever you tap her. She keeps promises,” says one theologian.[i] What you see is what you get. The inside matches the outside. There is no show.
Words like purity, and even perfection, get thrown around a lot in Christian circles, and some of us even believe that God expects nothing less than this gold standard of morality. We become adept at climbing the ladder of holiness up to God with our Lenten fasts and our daily disciplines only to realize that the holy top of the mountain is unattainable. And even more, Jesus isn’t there! He’s come to us.
In fact, we’ve really distorted both words – purity and perfection. Each in their own way actually get at what I’ve called wholeheartedness.[ii] This is an experience of oneness and worthiness in Christ. It is that “abiding” we mused on days ago, that being-at-home in Jesus.
And this, you’ll be shocked to hear, comes not from climbing but falling – falling into grace, falling into goodness, falling into your life. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as Paula D’Arcy says. And that means that God comes in and through the concreteness of your very being – who you are, where you are. Christ’s dying and Christ’s rising takes place in you. You may actually begin to believe that God isn’t ‘out there’ residing somewhere between Jupiter and Venus, but within.
The so-called hypocrites can’t stand this kind of talk. God must be attained, achieved, arrived at. God is a goal, attained by checking the boxes. Any talk of God’s beautiful intimacy in Christ sounds blasphemous.
And yet, it’s the true story we’re so blessed to participate in. God comes so near that he changes you, even you, from the inside out. He’s not afraid of what’s in you, and if it takes a lifetime he’ll work to remind you that shouldn’t be either. The God-in-you reality should remind us every day that it’s not about cleaning up our act for God, but making our whole being available for God’s abiding.
God’s doing the cleanup work in your right now. You can resist or surrender. You can fool around with the externals or fall into his infinite goodness, always available to you, right now and forever. You can close your eyes to grace or open them in order to “see God,” who is more near than you are to yourself.
God-in-us, you’re not afraid of what’s inside me. Why should I be afraid? You are making me new, cleaning me, purifying me, making your home in me. Housecleaning has never been so glorious. Give me the eyes to see. Amen
[i] Cornelius Plantinga, Not The Ways It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary On Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 34-35.
[ii] See DeGroat, Wholeheartedness.