“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
For the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching a class on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and been meditating on the Beatitudes. I’ve already published 8 posts (the last time I taught it), but as I continue to study I’ll probably have more. See: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
There are a number of questions raised by this beatitude.
First, does this saying contradict Matthew 8:21, 22: “And another of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go away and bury my father.’ But Jesus says to him, ‘Follow Me and leave the dead to bury their own dead!’”?
I don’t believe Jesus is forbidding mourning in this pronouncement. This is simply one more of Jesus’ radical demands for discipleship. We are told that this man already was a disciple. Elsewhere throughout the gospels we read of Jesus making demands that would seem to be calculated to drive people away rather than attract them.
To a scribe who said, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever You go.” Jesus replied, “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the sky their nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place He may lay His head” (Matthew 8:19, 20).
“The one who loves father or mother more than Me isn’t worthy of Me. The one who loves son or daughter more than Me isn’t worthy of Me. And whoever doesn’t take his cross and follow Me isn’t worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37, 38).
These are only a few of the radical demands Jesus makes on His followers and would-be followers. He expects total commitment! This doesn’t contradict His compassion as expressed elsewhere. “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened down, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am gentle (praus -- same word as is translated “meek” or “gentle” in the third beatitude) and lowly in heart and you’ll find rest for your souls. For My yoke is kind and My load is easy” (Matthew 11:28-30).
A second question is who are the mourners? They are the same persons as are mentioned in all nine beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). They are those persons who recognize that they have a need and are coming to Jesus to have that need met. They are “poor in Spirit,” “meek,” “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” and so on.
And they are mourning. There are four Greek words for mourning used in the Greek New Testament. Though they are synonyms and often used interchangeably, there are different nuances in their meaning.
Lupeo, which speaks of sorrow, pain, distress or grief. It speaks to the deep emotion of the griever.
Threneo, which speaks of lamenting, even “sing a dirge.” It brings to mind the loud emotional expression of grief (John 16:20 uses both words).
Kopto, (literally “cut”) expresses the outward signs of mourning or grief, “beat the breast” (cf. Matthew 24:30).
The word used in Matthew 5:4 is Pentheo. It is often used in the transitive sense – to mourn over or for something. The disciples will mourn for Jesus when He is taken (Matthew 9:15). Paul wonders why the Corinthians haven’t mourned over sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:2).
And what are these persons mourning? Jesus doesn’t say, so we are forced to interpret. We mourn that which is lost.
The loss of a loved one through death: a parent, a child, a friend, a spouse.
The loss of a loved one through alienation.
A spiritually lost loved one.
The loss of our childhood.
A lost opportunity.
A material loss
Our own sinfulness.
Whatever the loss it leaves a hole in our heart.
And Jesus doesn’t promise that He will cause us not to mourn. He doesn’t promise us that we will cease mourning, but that in our mourning we will be comforted.