The Beatitudes—”Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” – Matthew 5:1-11
Matthew 5 is the launching point of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is surrounded by people hungry to hear what he has to say. These people are very familiar with hard times. They live in an economically distressed region with little possibilities. They live with Rome’s oppressive foot on their throats. They are eager for some good news and they have heard that this Rabbi from Nazareth had some in store for those who heard him speak.
Matthew 5 begins with what we call, the Beatitudes. The 10 categories of people who Jesus called, “blessed”.
Randomly we focus on this morning’s theme; “Blessed are those who mourn.”
The earliest texts we have of the New Testament were written in Greek. Anyone who speaks more than one language will be quick to tell you that there are always words or concepts that you cannot translate into another language. It just does not work.
The Greek word for “mourn” is Οἱ πενθοῦντες, which is a reference to those who acknowledge their own failures and shortcomings and who are in distress over the brokenness of the world. It is a different mourning than that of someone who has lost a loved one.
“Blessed are those who mourn”, he declares to the crowd around him.
What is it to be blessed in this context?
To be blessed is an expression of inclusion and affirmation. You could also say; “God sees you—God embraces you—God understands…you who mourn.”
These words echo through the ages and are spoken to us this morning. They are as relevant to us as they were to those surrounding Jesus.
Each with our own challenges, our own questions, our own failures, our own triumphs.
Jesus speaks of a God whose compassion and love is not blind to the everyday struggle of the individual. We are blessed—we are embraced by this loving Presence. God does not hold grudges against us but loves us into a new relationship when we are open to our own failures.
This was a tremendous affirmation of one’s worth—one’s value, in God’s eyes. In those times, which we cannot imagine with all our freedoms and relative prosperity, it was a powerful message to people considered of little value to the empires of that time.
Perhaps, in our context, we might not value such a declaration of acceptance. In our individualistic culture we are taught that we have rights. We stand on our rights and they are enshrined in our legal system. We are someone. We know our value and demand our place in society to be respected. Perhaps we need to relearn the practice of repentance for we are also greatly flawed and prone to make enormous mistakes in our lives.
It is said that to acknowledge ones weakness and failures is the first step to healing and wholeness. Here Jesus is codifying this as a spiritual practice.
Blessed are you when you acknowledge your short comings for God has a place for you in God’s presence when you do.
If we are willing to begin there and deal with that pain, we open the path to a fuller insight. The Apostle Paul was a great example of someone willing to face his failures.
In Romans 7 he says “…what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who does it, but it is sin living in me.”
In 2 Corinthians 12 he says; “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
He is saying that he is constantly reminded of his own shortcomings—his own sinfulness, and that kept him grounded.
Mother Teresa was probably one of the most inspirational figures of modern times. She left us the legacy of selfless Christian love. And yet.
In 1979 this Saint of the Gutters writes the following to Rev Michael van der Preet; “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me–The silence and the emptiness is so great–that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear”
I imagine hearing Jesus saying to her; “Blessed are you, Teresa of Calcutta, every moment of this struggle.”
God can do nothing for or with the accomplished and the perfect. If you are that great, God is not even attractive to you.
When one of her generals tried ingratiating himself to her by groveling the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meier, responded; “don’t be that humble—you’re not that great.”
Jesus calls his listeners, and thus us, to a form of holy repentance for our mistakes. And then, in the same breath he calls those who accept this invitation to acknowledge and change, “blessed”. Seen and acknowledged by God it becomes our opportunity for a fresh start. It becomes our invitation to grow into the person God has in mind for us.
Living fully in the light of God’s acceptance and embrace we are capable of amazing things. Here among us we see that happen through the expressions of service by you. Acts of caring. Expressions of compassion. Commitments of loyalty to support the community.
We are also blessed by inspiring examples of ordinary people who, when called upon, rose to the occasion to be as Christ.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe is known as the Saint of Auschwitz, the German extermination camp. A prisoner from Fr. Kolbe’s barracks escaped, and in retaliation, the Nazi guards picked out ten other prisoners at random for execution. When one of those chosen broke down in tears, protesting that he was the father of a family, Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest; take me and spare this man.”
His act of selfless love cost Fr Kolbe his life, but it did much more than just save another life. It gave a whole group of lost and despairing people a vision of true life.
Blessed are you, if you are mourning.
5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.