“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The Beatitudes, from the sermon on the mount, are some of the most popular passages in the New Testament. Not only do they introduce the whole sermon on the mount, perhaps Jesus’ most famous sermon, but they also have deep meaning in themselves. Each sentence applies deeply to our lives, offering wisdom and grace for every Christian. If you want to learn more about the beatitudes in general, check out the introduction.
The title, The Beatitudes, is the first word of the Latin translation of this passage. “Beatitude” comes from the Latin word that means, “Blessed.” They truly do bring us blessing when we study them. This series will look at the blessings that Jesus gives us through the beatitudes. We will also look at some illustrations, symbols from stained glass windows, to help guide our exploration.
Who are those who mourn? That’s the first question we have to answer. Just like the poor in spirit, those who mourn are people who find themselves in a low estate. They mourn, not because they’re particularly pious, but because terrible things have happened to them.
Mourning isn’t a state of mind that someone can conjure. You don’t dig down deep into your heart to make yourself mourn. That only leads to self-righteousness.
Jesus described how the Pharisees use their fasting and mourning in a self-righteous way. When Jesus talks about how Christians ought to fast, he says in Matthew 6,
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus refers to people who use fasting, the symbol for mourning, as a way to show off their own righteousness.
Jesus makes this even more explicit when he tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
For the Pharisee, fasting is a sign of his righteousness before God. He’s a super-awesome follower of God, and he wants to make sure everyone, including God, knows it. He is self-righteous. He is proud, and it covers up his hypocrisy in his own mind.
The tax collector, on the other hand, was truly mourning. He wasn’t putting on a show or attempting to tout his own spiritual achievements. He was truly horrified by his own sin.
You can tell it by how he prays, not just the words, but his posture. Jews typically prayed standing up with their arms lifted up with their eyes to heaven. Christians still use this prayer posture today, too.
But the tax collector can’t even bring his eyes to look up into heaven. Instead, he lowers his eyes, beats his breast, and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
What’s the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector? There’s not a lot, actually. Both are sinners. They both didn’t love God with their whole hearts. They didn’t love their neighbors as themselves. They both deserved nothing but punishment for their sins.
The difference is that one knew it, and the other didn’t. The Pharisee was proud, and the tax collector was ashamed. The Pharisee boasted, and the tax collector was humble. The pharisee thought he was better than everyone, but the tax collector knew he was the worst.
The image for this beatitude has a set of praying hands before a cross that reads miserere mei, which is Latin for “have mercy on me.”
We mourn when we recognize our sin, and we feel the terrors of conscience that come from it. Mourning drives us to say what the tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
And Jesus always responds with mercy, because he came to lift up the lowly. He came to raise up sinners. He came to comfort those who mourn.
He did it by becoming a mourner himself. While he didn’t sin, he felt the pangs of sin. He faced temptation, he suffered our weakness, and he took the punishment we deserved by his death on the cross. If there is anything that would make someone mourn, it’s death by torture on a cross. His resurrection means mercy for everyone who mourns.
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