Wide Love, Pure Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
Living with wide love and a pure heart is tricky business.
Scripture restates the challenge over and over. God called the people of Israel to single-minded, loving devotion that extends love into a world that fancies many gods. That required coexisting with diverse people who sometimes enriched their faith but who also introduced other gods and ungodly practices. Even after God chose them, set them free, and gave them a homeland, single-minded devotion proved challenging. Yet, this jealous God expected nothing less of that beloved, fickle nation.
We face the same challenge. God calls us to welcome and engage diverse people and cultures while keeping our eyes on God. Purity of heart is keeping one’s eyes on God and no other: “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Yet, this same God calls us to wide love for neighbors and strangers.
Old Testament books argue among themselves over whether purity means keeping clear of outsiders (e.g., Ezra and Nehemiah) or welcoming them into the family of God (e.g., Ruth and Jonah). The New Testament leans hard in the direction of welcoming them. For example, Jesus commends a Roman centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:5-13), and lets a Gentile woman persuade him to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30); Peter has an epiphany that opens doors to table fellowship with Gentiles (Acts 10); and Paul fights hard to include Gentiles based on their faith, not on the distinctive marks of ethnic identity (e.g., Galatians).
Still, the paradoxical question remains: How do we lovingly embrace a diverse world community and keep our eyes on the one God? How do we become all things to all people and maintain purity of heart?
Exclusion will not work. It contradicts the call of a priestly people to be a light to the world, shining not by conquest but by wide love and faithfulness. Bearing witness through domination and indoctrination doesn’t work because they lead inevitably to exclusion and one cannot deliver them with the very love they proclaim. They collapse into hypocrisy.
Neither does it work to relativize in the face of idolatries with dismissals like, “Who am I to say what’s right?” Or, “That may be true for him but not for me.” The subtext is, “I don’t care enough to enter the fray,” and that’s not love.
But compassion works. It cuts to the chase. Christ meets us in our caring encounters with the hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, and imprisoned. In compassionate solidarity and service, we meet Christ, and in Christ we see God.
Your call includes how God leads you to do that. There are innumerable possibilities. Discern your gifts, listen to your passions, talk with faithful friends, and let God surprise you. Do it all with wide love and the courage to embrace the suffering other. Christ is purifying your heart. Join him.
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