Happy are the pure in heart

Another wonderful book. The themes will be familiar to readers of Daniel’s other books, but with their own particular slant here. Broadly, the theme is repentance and cleansing.

The book opens with a look at the 10 lepers of whom one, the Samaritan, returned for further cleansing. Leprosy is the very picture of the unclean or impure; it meant not just physical and social but also spiritual exclusion; a leper had no access to the Temple and therefore no access to God; how then could they pay? They couldn’t! The impossibility of the impure approaching the pure sets the theme for the book, and, of course, wonderfully, the purity of Jesus overcomes, here by no more than he look. But how can this be? We need detail!

Some detail is provided in the account of Leviticus 14. There was a 3 stage cleansing; firstly to return to society, then to the family, then later, on a day outside normal time, the 8th day, to God. In the first two stages the man had a part to play himself, but stage 3 was entirely an act of God. This leads us into chapter 2, a look at Psalm 51 – “create in me a clean heart, O God.” David had no ground for hope in himself of cleansing – nothing but rottenness and impurity and yet he dared cry out to God for intimate healing – “open thou my lips.” This result would follow not forgiveness but cleansing, a distinction which is carefully brought out.

How in fact can an impure heart cry out to God? The theme Daniel develops is that God hides himself in the secret place, in the hidden places of darkness, that is precisely in the human heart, and it is from here that He operates to cleanse.

In the final chapter, Daniel turns to the early Fathers John Climacus and Macarius, both of whom discuss tears, the tears of penitence as cleansing – but again, how can an impure heart produce pure, cleansing tears? Can it be possible that the tears of God as told by Jeremiah and seen in Jesus – can it be that His tears mingle with ours to cleanse and heal, the tears of God that flow from the hidden place of our heart?

Can we say this for sure? Perhaps not. Can we think about it? We can indeed.

Jesus exhorts us to pray with humility, calling us to a process of the greatest importance: Go into your most secret place, which, as the Fathers well understood, means, into the most secret corners of your soul, your heart. There, Jesus goes on, shut the door without delay, because he whom you seek is awaiting.

 

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