Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – SOTM #6

Joy is the object, the goal, but we settle for happiness, if we can get it. C.S. Lewis was right; joy cannot be gained by seeking it, only by being receptive to it, and perceiving it when it comes. Happiness, too, is difficult to come by. We lure it by stimulating our senses with sounds, and smells, and tastes, and sights, and touches, but find that it flees when the senses grow accustomed to it, or even sometimes weary of it. And so we spend most of our time “perusing happiness,” and only fleeting moments, enjoying it. Which is to say that much of our life, bereft of joy and happiness, is spent in mourning their absence.

It is difficult to know for sure, just what was the nature of the mourning that Jesus spoke of in the second beatitude. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” We get little help from the context of Jesus’ statement but fortunately the same Greek word occurs in other contexts in the New Testament and they give us some clue as to how the word might have been understood by those listening that day.

The Greek word that Matthew uses for mourn is pentheo. The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5, chastises the Corinthian church because it did not mourn (pentheo) over the sinful behavior of a man living in incestuous adultery. Again in the second epistle to the Corinthians he urges them to remove all sin from their midst so he will not mourn (pentheo) when he visits them.

These examples of the use of the word would indicate that it was understood to mean, deep sorrow for some happening (a death), or for the sinfulness of the society one is living in, or for one’s own sinfulness.

Unfortunate happenings trigger sorrow in nearly every person, more so if they are personally touched by them. Thus there are millions of mourners in the world at any given moment.

Sorrow for the sinfulness of one’s society, or culture, or business, or family, is less common, often only expressed when it affects someone or something we value.

And sorrow for personal sin is arguably least common of all, unless one has been embarrassed by disclosure of their sin.

Jesus did not admonish his hearers simply to mourn; he pronounced them blessed if they did, and promised that they would be comforted. We must remember that he is presenting the perspective of the kingdom of heaven, not that of this world. According to this world’s perspective the way past sorrow is a renewed “pursuit of happiness.” Mourning is seen as an interruption of happiness. Don black for a month, lower the flag to half-mast for month, change your ways until society is no longer looking; then get on with living as you wish.

In the kingdom of heaven mourning is the way to joy. Who feels more joy than one wrapped in comfort? And it is comfort that Jesus promises to those who mourn. To mourn a tragedy and see it as a violation of God’s intent for this world, to mourn the sinfulness of our culture and see the destruction it brings to those God longs to save, to mourn for one’s own sinfulness, recognizing how it separates us from our God, is to act according to the principles of the kingdom of heaven.

Someday the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, but for now the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. Jesus presumably could have taken his disciples with him when he left this world, but he intended them to remain as salt and light in this dark kingdom. Regarding his apostles, he prayed to the Father, not that he would take them out of the world but that he would keep them from the evil. He told them they would be in the world, but not of it; surrounded by the evil but not overcome by it, observers of the evil but not rejoicing in it. On the contrary, they were to be mourning it.

Can mourning and joy co-exist? I believe they do. True mourning puts one on the side of God, living by kingdom principles. True mourners receive the comfort of God, assuring them that their broken heart is a reflection – even an expression – of God's own heart. What greater joy could a subject in any kingdom have than to know that they are perfectly in tune with the heart of their sovereign?

Blessed are those that mourn. Their reward is comfort.

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