Summum Bonum

A while back, Cal Katsma recommended the book “The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom” to me. It was written by R. Kent Hughes. It sat on my desk for quite some time before I got to it. I had several others going at the time and had to finish them first. Hughes is an outstanding writer and he brings amazing illustrations into his exegesis of the fifth chapter of Matthew.

What I want to share with you this morning is the illustration the author uses to introduce the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall SEE GOD.” [emphasis added] The point Hughes is making here is that we can’t even begin to fathom what it will be like when we actually see “the face of Christ.”

In 1982 the Los Angeles Times carried the story of Anna Mae Pennica, a sixty-two-year-old woman who had been blind from birth. At age forty-seven, she married a man she met in Braille class, and for the first fifteen years of their marriage, he did the seeing for both of them until he completely lost his vision to retinitis pigmentosa. Mrs. Pennica had never seen the green of spring or the blue of a winter sky. Yet because she had grown up in a loving, supportive family, she never felt resentful about her handicap and always exuded a remarkably cheerful spirit.

Then in October 1981, Dr. Thomas Pettit of UCLA performed surgery to remove the rare congenital cataracts from the lens of her left eye—and Mrs. Pennica saw for the first time ever! The newspaper account tells us that she dropped to her knees nearly overcome by the flood of multi-colored images “so much bigger and brighter” than she ever imagined. But almost immediately, her vision was blurred as tears of joy filled her eyes. Assured by Dr. Pettit that she was not losing her sight again, she began to focus on the faces of those in the room. She immediately recognized her husband, but other acquaintances were taller or shorter, heavier or skinnier than she had pictured them.

Since that day, Mrs. Pennica has hardly been able to wait to wake up in the morning, splash her eyes with water, put on her glasses, and enjoy the changing morning light. Think how wonderful it must have been for Anna Mae Pennica when she looked for the first time at faces she had only felt, or when she saw the kaleidoscope of a Pacific sunset, or a tree waving its branches, or a bird in flight. The gift of physical sight is wonderful. And the miracle of seeing for the first time can hardly be described.

Think about never having seen anything. Think about having no frame of reference to start from when trying to form an understanding of what something “looks like.” Then think about the absolute tsunami of images and resulting emotions that must have flooded Anna’s mind and heart when she “saw” for the first time. And that’s what Rev. Hughes is trying to help us comprehend and appreciate as we consider the immensity of what Jesus was saying: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall SEE GOD.”

Since nothing is higher than God, seeing God is logically the greatest joy that anyone can experience. Therefore, when we leave this world and see the face of Christ, the joy of that first split second will transcend all the accumulated joys of our lifetime. Hughes gives the Latin term for this moment; he says it will be the “summum bonum” the “highest good” that any human will ever experience. And we will literally live out the summum bonum for eternity. Coram Deo!!!

Written by Jim De Horn