BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN Matthew 5:4

The second Beatitude is Blessed are Those who Mourn (Matthew 5:4). Commentators like to emphasize the paradox, “Happy are the Sad”. Many wish to apply this to people who are suffering some calamity, as if Jesus is making a blanket promise to all who are mourning some devastation. Not wanting to knock the props out from comforting someone, but these verses apply to those who are in the Kingdom. Many lost people (pretty much all of them in fact) have times when they mourn, such as at the death of a loved one. Their comfort is not promised apart from turning to God and being part of His kingdom.

Similarly, some who believe the Beatitudes are requirements for Salvation identify this beatitude with pre-conversion conviction of sin and repentance. This unnecessarily narrows the Beatitude. The characteristics described in the Beatitude are those which God is working in the lives of those who are part of the New Creation. While pre-conversion conviction and repentance are the Holy Spirit’s work in the person, the Beatitudes are not requirements for Salvation and this working of the characteristic of mourning into the believer does not end with conversion. As I implied at the end of the first Beatitude, this seems to flow from it. That is, recognition of our poverty and dependence leads to mourning.

There is also a temptation to set this Beatitude in contrast with Joy. This, I believe is a false dichotomy. I have argued that the Beatitudes are the effects of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of those who are of the new creation. Thus, the mourning which the Spirit produces is not contrary to Joy, being a fruit of the Spirit. They are both part of what God is working in his children.

Of the Greek words for sadness – I’m told there are 9 of them – the word used here is the strongest. It is the one used for mourning for the dead. It is a mourning that takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hid (Wm Barclay). Scripturally, mourning is used in several contexts:

1) Mourning over our sins. In the Parable of the two men praying in the Temple, the second one “beat his breast” a sign of mourning. Luke 18:9-14. Also: Matthew 26:75; 2 Corinthians 7:9,10; James 4:8-10; Psalm 38:18
2) Mourning over the sins of others. Philippians 3:17-19; Acts 17:16; Psalm 119:136
3) Mourning over the state of others. Luke 13:34; 19:41-44; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Jeremiah 9:1
4) Mourning over the mourning of others. Romans 12:15; John 11:33-35
5) Mourning over personal loss. John 11:33-35; 16:20-22; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 38:1-3
6) Mourning over punishment or oppression. Psalm 32:3-7
7) Mourning over the desire to see God. Psalm 42:1-3

Mourning is an appropriate response to being fallen people in a fallen world. Let’s consider this section in Romans 8, For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly but because of God who subjected it — in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. (Romans 8:18-27) This will be somewhat of a sprint through this scripture for the sake of its application to this Beatitude. Starting with an expression of hope, Paul looks at the creation “subjected to futility” by God. I think this section in Romans explains what is going on in Genesis 3, what is commonly called “the curses”. What is really going on in Genesis 3 is the subjection. Futility is not a pleasant thing. We do not like it. But God is the one who subjects creation to the order of futility. In this, Genesis 3 is a parallel to Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, God broods over chaos and brings order. With sin, a new chaos descends on creation so in Genesis 3, God brings a new order. The new order, futile though it is, is created in hope.

In Romans 8, one repeated characteristic that Paul used was groaning (an exercise of mourning). All of Creation groans, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan and The Spirit himself groans for us. Thus, this section of Romans fleshes out the Beatitude that God is at work in those who mourn. As it is God’s order, we are not here to “beat the system”. Our place is to live within the order of futility and mourn, knowing the time is coming when God himself will wipe away the tears.

Of course, it is easy to observe that we do not wish to mourn. To keep from mourning, people entertain themselves with frivolous activities and frantic busyness, deaden themselves with various narcotics, or submit themselves to stoic acceptance. Even in the Church, the commitment to not mourn is evidenced by pious clichés and sanctimonious pontifications that the futilities of others are deserved and “it serves them right”. Some cultivate a pseudo-puritanism where rather than mourning, there is a scowling grumpiness. Others cultivate a smiley glibness. There are those who teach that God, whose present order for creation is futility in hope, exempts his children from that order (if you have enough faith).

Scriptural examples of mourning (some are found in the above list) include David, who mourned over his sin, confessing, The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit — O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. (Psalms 51:17). Peter is also our example when confronted with his sin Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75).

Jesus, though he had no sin to mourn, is also an example of this Beatitude. During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem rather than being caught up in the moment sees ahead to the end of Jerusalem and mourns. Now when Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)

Also in Mark 3, Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent. After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-5) Jesus saw the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees and it grieved him.

This characteristic is a function of having the heart of God – of being aware of how things could have been and how they really are. The righteous response of that stark contrast is not the callousness the flesh prefers but mourning in hope, knowing that God’s comfort will be ours (even if only in part now, it will be complete at the end) and ours to share (2 Corinthians 1:4).

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This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Culture/Society, Ethics, Matthew 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount. Bookmark the permalink.

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