THOSE WHO MOURN
The world loves to laugh. Comedians will always have an audience. People don’t like kill-joys who ruin the party. Yet Jesus says, “” (Matt 5:4). He doesn’t mean that his people are always to be gloomy or morose. Still less is he saying that Christians are to wallow in self-pity.
Jesus has in mind the grief we experience, not just when we lose a loved one (though that is here), but when we become aware of the purity of God and the naked reality of the dark side of our nature. Isaiah the prophet was aware of this when he saw a vision of the glory of God in the temple. ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ the angels sang. Isaiah despaired: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ (Isaiah 6:5).
It is the cry of someone who thinks they are good enough for God and then discovers they are not. None of us is. Malcolm Muggeridge, one-time editor of Punch, wrote: ‘The depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable.’ Paul the Apostle said: Who will rescue me from this body of death?
The last recorded words of one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus, echo the grief that Jesus is talking about in this beatitude. “Don’t you fear God?” he said to his colleague. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve….” Turning to Jesus he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
This man was no saint; he didn’t even pretend to be good. Something about Jesus seems to have struck him. Perhaps it was the stark contrast between Jesus’ prayer for his tormentors and the bitter hostility of his friend. He knew Jesus was innocent: “This man has done nothing wrong,” he said. This man feared God sufficiently to recognize his need.
Jesus also had in mind another dimension of mourning in Mt 5:4: grief for the world’s sin. There are times when we are deeply saddened by the sin of the world. We read the news headlines; we hear of the struggles of family and friends. We are aware of the injustice, the cruelty, the selfishness of men and women towards others, and we weep.
Often we are content to condemn the perpetrators. It’s a natural response. But Jesus has in mind another kind of response which he himself exemplified. He wept at the godlessness of people’s lives and what that meant. It’s easy to agree with Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 where he condemns the hypocrisy of the Jewish theologians and the Pharisees. But we stop short of joining him in weeping over the city (Luke 19:41ff).
Down through the ages God’s people have wept at the plight of men and women trapped in the dark little prison of their own ego. Calvin did. So too did George Whitfield and John Wesley, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and the Earl of Shaftesbury.
God’s people are realists. We understand that death is a reality to be faced. We know that sin is unspeakably ugly and black in the light of God’s purity. We also know that eternity exists and everyone of us is rushing towards it. And we understand that God not only exists but has spoken, revealing in his Word the alternatives that will come to pass — life or death, pardon or condemnation, heaven or hell.
‘My followers,’ says Jesus in Matt 5:4, ‘mourn because of the sins and blasphemies of the nation; mourn because of the erosion of the very concept of truth. They mourn over the greed, the cynicism, the lack of compassion evident everywhere. They even mourn there are so few who mourn’.