Blessed: Those That Mourn - Matthew 5:1-2, 4
Have you ever looked out into the world and just wanted to cry? I’m not talking about being unhappy with the politics of the time, because if you’re a Democrat, chances are you’re unhappy with the way things are going in North Carolina, if you’re a Republican, chances are you’re unhappy with the way things are going nationally. What I am talking about is looking out at those who are truly hurting in the world—the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the abused, the addicted, the enslaved, the forgotten—and really just had your heart break for them?
That's what this week's beatitude addresses.
We started this series last week. We considered that while as a kid we might have liked having our world turn upside down, with the exception of pineapple upside down cake, as adults we usually don't like it when things are flipped upside down. Yet Jesus is always about turning the world upside down. We discussed that Jesus comes in and calls those blessed that we and the world would not normally consider blessed. I tried to clarify last week that we should not take blessed as happy, because being happy is simply an emotional state. Being blessed, as Jesus uses it, is more than simply not feeling sad. Jesus is not talking about an emotional state, but a state of being, a condition of existence. To be blessed, remember, is to be considered fortunate, well-off, fortunate, or privileged. Last week we began be hearing Jesus tell us that we fortunate if we understand that we are not and cannot be self-sufficient, and are wholly and completely dependent on God.
This week we hear Jesus say blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. For many years, I grew up thinking that Jesus was talking about those who had lost a loved one, and that the comfort came in those that surrounded them in their grief and in the hope and science of the resurrection to come. However, I could never reconcile that with that old notion of blessed being interchangeable with being happy. How could you be mourn the loss of someone you cared about and be happy at the same time? Of course now that I have been in the ministry for nearly 18 years, I can understand how there are families who feel happy that a loved ones pains and struggles have come to an end and that the loved one is now at rest with Jesus. Yet with our new understanding of blessed being privileged, well-off, or fortunate, that kind of slips away. Many of us might say, and I’ve heard it said many times, “that they are in a far better place.” They are the ones who are blessed, privileged, well-off, and fortunate. It would make sense to us if Jesus said “blessed are those who have died,” but Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus must mean something different or something more than those who have lost someone for whom they cared deeply.
And as I alluded to earlier, Jesus is meaning something more than the loss of a loved one. Jesus is pulling on the traditions of the Psalmist, Isaiah, Jeremiah and other biblical writers who are mourning not the loss of a someone they cared about, but are actually mourning the fact that the community of God’s people have lost the vision of what it means to live as the People of God and that the world itself has fallen and is not what God has designed. In a sense it is about a death, but not the death of a person, but the death of creation and humanity as we were meant to be.
The Psalms are full of laments, for example the Psalmist writes:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall the enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed;” my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.[i]
Jeremiah’s lament is probably the best known of the entire Old Testament, as his sorrow fills the book of Lamentations We can catch a brief glimpse of his sorrow in the opening of the book:
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.[ii]
Matthew even records a lament of Jesus later in his Gospel:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’[iii]
My brothers and sisters, the question comes to us, how do we feel when we see the pain and need of those in the world? Unfortunately sometimes we tend not to look at it as Jesus sees it.
Sometimes we look at it judgmentally. We think that addict made their choices and it serves them right that they are bound by that sin. We look at those living in poverty and think they should have worked harder. We look at the hungry begging on the street and figure they have spent all their money on booze. We look at pregnant teenagers and condemn their loose morals.
Maybe it is not judgmentalism that comes from us but a sense of uncaring callousness. We have been hit so many times by so many images and it does not seem to be getting any better, and so we just stop feeling anything. We stop feeling and stop caring.
Others of us live by the exact opposite of what Jesus says and believe that ignorance is bliss. We turn a blind eye to all the hurt and pain and simply focus on our own happiness.
Yet Jesus calls those who identify with the poets, prophets, and himself, those who lament the condition of the world and those living in it, those who mourn, blessed, fortunate, well-off, privileged. While Jesus doesn’t come out and say it, He strongly implies that those who sit in judgment, those who have become callous, or those simply ignoring the struggling in the world, are not blessed, that they may be the ones to be pitied. Why? Well, God’s concern is for the weak, the hurting, the struggling, those in pain, and those enslaved. His heart has always been moved by their plight and their plea. To find ourselves mourning is to find ourselves on the side of God—to have any other response is to find ourselves aligned opposite Christ.
However, it is not finding themselves on the side of God is not the reason that Jesus says those mourning are blessed. Jesus says they will be comforted. Jesus offers to those who see and ache on behalf of those who are suffering, struggling, and lost in the world, know that your sadness and sorrow has been seen and God will respond. Looking closely at the laments of the Psalms and the Prophets, will they begin in sorrow, they always end in the hope and assurance that God is going to come and act. God is going to make everything right. For those who mourn we will find comfort in the realization, assurance, and witness of God coming in and restoring things to the way they should be—things may be bad, things may get worse, but we live as people who may ache, but ache with the hope that God is going to act—knowing as the old saying goes, “that it is darkest before the dawn.” We believe that the dawn will come, the Son has risen and will return again, and the day will come where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….”[iv] Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn to joy…So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”[v]
So, my brothers and sisters, find yourself on the side of God, mourn with Him at the pain and suffering in the world, but know that comfort is coming, He will act, and rejoice!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen.83