Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 ESV)
Thus far in this series, we have dealt with one beatitude and a few scattered teachings of Jesus throughout the Gospels. Now we come to the second of the Beatitudes. Today we are going to deal with the issue of mourning and comfort.
Mourning in a modern context
I have lost count of the number of sermons I have heard that try to spiritualize this entire passage of The Messiah’s teachings. They try to make this whole thing out to be speaking not of this life now, but of our spiritual life. Of the two verses that we have looked at, they would interpret them to you by saying something about how Jesus was saying that we must acknowledge how spiritually destitute we are and then mourn over that fact.
Now, while this is not a “wrong” interpretation of this passage, I do not think that it is the right one, if that makes sense. Jesus is not here simply showing us how to get to heaven when we die. I don’t know how many times I can reiterate that point. I just want people to get that. Jesus came to do so much more than that. If all He came to do was die, then why did He spend so much time talking about real life?
Jesus is teaching us something here about our life now that we miss if we only see Jesus’ message as being primarily about getting to heaven when we die.
The idea of mourning, though, is hard for us, especially in a modern Western American context. We don’t properly understand mourning as a culture. In fact, we tend to look down on people who mourn over, for example, the death of a loved one for “too long.” Sadly, our idea of “too long” is usually a matter of a couple of months. Admittedly, I would have this judgment passed on me if my wife and lover passed away because I can say with full confidence that I would mourn over that loss for more than a mere couple of months.
Mourning as a means of grace
Another issue with our understanding of mourning in modern culture is that we see it as a bad thing. If someone is mourning over the passing of a loved one for that said “too long,” we begin to think that something is wrong with the person and we immediately get them into grief counseling or something like that.
I think Jesus is showing us a better way, though. Jesus wants us to see mourning as having a sacramental quality about it. He wants us to see mourning as a means of grace.
Now, before you get your knickers all in a twist over my choice of words, hear me out. The Old Testament is filled with instances where God deliberately put His people in tough (read bad) situations. It is also full of statements about how God is the initiator of all the evil that happens in the world. Take Judges, for example.
I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not. (Judges 2:21-22 ESV)
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lamentations 3:38 ESV)
There are many other passages that I could quote, but I’ll leave it at these two.
All that God does is to show Himself to be the gracious and glorious God that He claims to be. Everything He does is for His own glory. So, when adversity comes our way, at His command, it is a way for Him to show Himself to the world.
And why does God allow bad things to happen? I think this is said best in 1 Peter.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
And how does God show His glory to people who are suffering, going through trials, or mourning? He shows them His grace. He comforts them.
So, Jesus is telling us here that when bad things happen to us, that it isn’t all bad. It is a means for God to impart His grace to us.
Life is Sacramental. Each breath that we take is a means of grace. We may not like this terminology, but can life be explained any other way?
We will pause here in Jesus’ teachings specifically and deal next time with the idea of sacrament. The idea of something being a “means of grace” has, I believe, strong bearing on how we interpret the words of Jesus in many cases.