45. The Beatitudes - Blessed are They That Mourn (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21,
Since the word “blessed” means
“happy”, this beatitude presents one of the most unlikely paradoxes
in all the Bible. Yet Jesus did not say that they who mourn ore happy,
for this would be worse than any modern example of crazy double-speak. His
beatitude gives firm assurance of comfort to come. Yet at any given moment there
are thousands in the world who are delivered over to grief and who are bereft of
real solace of any kind. The cruel hand of death, sudden and violent, the loss
of home or health, the savage “indiscriminate” heartlessness of war,
famine, plague or cataclysm-such common experiences leave a long trail of misery
and mourning across the world. What comfort for such?
The answer must be: none at all, except they mourn over other
things even more fundamental.
A quick review of a wide field of Old Testament passages,
which must be regarded as the background to this Beatitude of Christ, shows
other mourning besides personal stroke or bereavement. Here are
All of these have their counterpart in the experience of Jesus
and his New Testament saints:
- There is mourning for Zion, because the purpose of God with His ancient
people seems as yet to have gone awry: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we
sat down, yea we wept, when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:1).
to this is the grief of mind which looks out on a weary sin-stricken world
without God. There is the sickness of heart that the vindication of God is so
long delayed: “the thing was true, but the time appointed was long... In
those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks” (Dan. 10:1, 2). There
is a problem here. Should those in Christ afflict their souls with fasting
because the Bridegroom is taken away from them (Mt. 9:15), and is long
returning? Or is such grief out of place because he is with them now and to the
end of the world?
- There is the fret and heaviness which laments the
indifference and sin of those who bear the name of the Lord unworthily:
“Ezra did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the
transgression of them of the captivity” (Ezra 10:6), just as -- the
commonest of all mourning -- a man laments for the dead and the dying, those he
holds in affection but seems helpless to help.
- Most devastating of all is
the utter loss of spirit in those who grieve over their own sins-the
“broken spirit”, the “broken and contrite heart”
grieving in wretchedness past describing over the collapse of personal
self-dedication to God.
This last, most of all, must have been the chief reference of
the Lord’s words. When a man is bowed down with dejection at his own
spiritual condition, there is hope for him. When he goes with a heavy heart
because of the meagre success attending his conscientious
dedicated aspirations after godliness, then the happiness Jesus has promised
is within his grasp. For what has proved to be futile and hopeless because of
his own powers will be done for him through the grace of Christ.
- “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to
try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice inasmuch as
ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory shall be
revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12, 13). Here
is comfort of a very real kind. “We trusted that it had been he which
should have redeemed Israel” (Lk. 24:21). Those who set out for Emmaus
mourning returned in an ecstasy of joy.
- Simeon, waiting for the consolation
of Israel, was able to rejoice at the sight of a baby: “Lord, now lettest
thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation”
(Lk. 2:25, 29, 30).
- Jesus wept over Jerusalem: “If thou hadst known,
even thou, in this thy day the things which belong unto peace! but now they are
hid from thine eyes” (Lk. 19:41, 42). And Paul lamented the lack of a
contrite spirit in the ecclesia at Corinth: “Ye are puffed up, and have
not rather mourned” -- concerning the evil way of life present in their
midst (1 Cor. 5:2).
- James bade his readers: “Be afflicted, and mourn,
and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to
heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you
up” (4:9, 10). If a saint like Paul could so lament his own unworthiness
by exclaiming: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the
body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24), can there be any question that all
saints in Christ should similarly castigate
The reassurance is positive: “they shall be
comforted”. The Lord’s own message in the synagogue at Nazareth was:
“to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to
give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” There is a
charming paronomasia in the Hebrew of that phrase: “Sashes for
ashes”. It is an invitation to weddings instead of funerals. It happened
this way when the disciples “mourned and wept” over the loss of
their Lord, and Mary Magdalene came with incredible news (Mk. 16:10)
The version of this beatitude in Luke is most striking:
“Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh”.
Jesus himself wept over the hardness of Jerusalem’s
golden limestone (Lk. 19:41); he wept-a strange mystery this! -- at the
grave-side of a dear friend whom only a few minutes later he was to restore to
his mourning family (Jn. 11:35). He wept-can anyone grasp it? -at the
inclination born with him to set his own will before that of his heavenly Father
(Heb. 5:7). And never, in all the four gospels, is there a hint that he smiled,
much less that he-this man of sorrows--laughed out of inexpressible gladness.
But in these respects it was surely a different Jesus who encountered disciples
on the day of resurrection. Would he not then prove to them the truth of his own
Beatitude? (Ps. 30:11).
This transformation should have been the experience of the
disciples when Mary Magdalene burst in on them “as they mourned and
wept”. But “they, when they heard... believed not” (Mk. 16:10,
11). A strange reluctance to rejoice in good news! But before that day was out,
they were different. When -- and no one knows how soon -- even better news comes
to those who now mourn in Zion, will the reaction be the same?
Woe! Mourn and Weep!
The converse of this beatitude is stated in Luke just as
forthrightly: “Woe unto you that laugh nowl for ye shall mourn and
weep” (Lk. 6:25). Whether this be the mocking of the scoffer deriding the
simple faith and piety of the disciple, or the empty laughter of the fool which
is “as the crackling of thorns under a pot” (Ecc. 7:6), the
miserable end of that mirth is the same heaviness (Pr. 14:13). A man whose life
is not conditioned by a frank recognition of his own true state before God (that
is, who is not “poor in spirit”), and who is not led thence to a
contrite mourning because his life and his world are as they are, has no
prospects at all. He can never know the genuine comfort and solace of soul which
the Truth of God imparts through Jesus Christ.
Notes: Matthew 5;4; Luke 6:21, 25
- All the elements of this beatitude are included in Jas. 4:9 - another of
the copious allusions in this epistle to the Sermon on the mount? Or, an
allusion to the Day of Atonement?
- Jesus promised a Comforter to his
mourning disciples. The effect of it is readily traceable in Acts. 2:41, 46;
4:24, 31, 32; 5:41; 8:39 etc.
- In A.D. 70 the devastation of Jerusalem by
the Roman armies was celebrated by a special coin issue showing a woman,
representing Jewry, mourning under a palm tree. The inscription is “Judaea
capta”. For “laughter” - Jewry had to wait till 1948. There
is yet to be a more intense mourning and a finer gladness for modern