In the two versions of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples about grief and sorrow. In the version recorded in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4). Luke’s gospel interprets Jesus as saying, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:21b). Matthew’s gospel interprets Jesus saying from the internal process of grieving while the gospel of Luke depicts the same as an outward expression.
The question is this: what the heck is Jesus talking about? Is he speaking about grief due to sin? Or is he referring to the loss of a loved through death? Or is he alluding to something else?
The context of both versions seems to point to grief over sin. In both gospels, what Jesus says after the beatitudes contradicts the status quo view of right and wrong. In effect, the practical requirements of righteousness as expressed in the Sermon reveals how most people then and now fail to measure up. It is what Paul meant when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Here are a few examples from the gospel of Matthew: Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life-food, shelter, clothing, transportation, money” (6:25-34). How about “do not have a savings account, an IRA, or 401K, or the like” (6:19-21). Here is another commandment: “Love your enemies; pray not for their destruction but rather pray for God to bless them”. (6:43-47). Here the easy one: “Be perfect as God is perfect” (6:48). How are you measuring up?
Another contextual clue precedes Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping. Blessed are the poor both in spirit and otherwise refers to the lack of a right relationship with God. What does being poor in spirit mean? It means not being full of the Spirit. If a person is not full of the Spirit of God it usually means that person is full of something else. In writings of the Apostle Paul, the Greek word used for the something else is sarkikos. It is usually translated as carnal, natural, fleshly, or worldly. It actually means ungodly or behavior uncharacteristic of Christ. The essence of sin then is living contrary to God’s way, which the way Jesus teaches in the Sermon..
One of the best examples of a person grieving over sin is found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus presents a parable of two different types of people praying in the Temple. One is a Pharisee and the other a wretched tax collector. The Pharisee tells God about his righteous deeds while the tax collector cries out to God for mercy. Ashamed by the realization of his evil ways, “the tax collector was unwilling to lift up his head toward heaven. Instead, he pounds his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner'” (18:9-14).
Another good example is the woman who repented of her sins by washing Jesus feet with tears and wiping his feet with her hair, which took place in the house of a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his home for dinner. Entering the house of a Pharisee uninvited was pretty risky. Sinners were not allowed but to allow a immoral woman to touch you even more grievous. But, as Jesus pointed out, his host failed to perform the customary purity ritual of feet washing, but the sinful woman did. She washed his feet with tears of sorrow over her own sins. She demonstrated unusually humility when she wiped his feet with her hair. A woman’s hair represented the glory of her beauty. This unnamed woman did all of it as a silent cry for God’s forgiveness. She was not disappointed. (Luke 7:36-50).
The term mourning usually depicts loss of some sort. The loss of wealth or possession certainly is something about which people mourn. From the viewpoint of political economy, poverty more often than not is the result of sin. Often it is the result of an abuse of power and a result of greed. Communist Russia (USSR) impoverished a majority of its people by its empire building efforts around the world. I have heard of people being impoverished in China and Muslim countries only because of their Christian beliefs. United States government is also impoverishing many citizens by means of its ever-increasing debt spending and, to a lesser extent, its sanctioning of corporate globalism. American empire building is the reason for much of the enormous national debt. Poverty may also be the result of an impoverished mentality. The story of the ancient post-Exodus Jews present one example. Many second and third generation Americans who lived by government welfare is another. Sometimes poverty is the result of illness or similar tragedy. That is why the American founders agreed to the idea of a right “to the pursuit of happiness” rather than a guaranteed right to prosperity.
Because the blessed poor have access to the kingdom of God, their wealth in material things and in spirit is supplied by God. And God delights in the prosperity of His people. (1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:6-11; Ex. 30:5-10)
The vagueness of Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping most likely was meant to encompass all human grief and sorrow. As the prophet Isaiah foresaw it, Jesus bore all our grief, sorrows, and infirmities (Isaiah 53). Not just for our sins, but for our loss of loved one simply through death, the loss of jobs and wealth, the loss of homes due to some disaster, the loss of health resulting in other losses as well. Therefore, God comforts those whose mourning is directed toward Him. Relatives and friends simply being present while grieving the loss of a spouse, parent, or child is a comfort. Being there proves that not all is lost–not all life is lost. In the kingdom of God, the expectant hope is that one day the grieving will one day be together with their loved one who died. That hope is reinforced when God is manifestedly presence during such a time.
Some biblical examples include a Shunammite’s women’s grief over the death of her son and God raising her son from the dead through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37); Jesus raises the dead son of widow in Nain because he saw her weeping and empathized with her loss (Luke 7:11-15); a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage 12 year and spent all her wealth attempting to get healed was instantly healed of her terrible affliction (Mark 5:25-34); and ten men who suffered the extremely painful and crippling disease leprosy cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them and Jesus healed them (Luke 17:11-19).
When people in the kingdom lose jobs, health, or wealth, God makes them laugh. Those taught by God learn to laugh at adversity. When God heals through whatever process, God gives people a reason to laugh. When couples who were unable have children give birth to their first child because of answered prayer, they laugh. (Genesis 17:17; 18:13; 21:1-8) When God provides resources during times of loss, God gives people a reason to laugh. When loss happens, people who seek God find a reprieve from the anxiety of uncertainty. A joyful heart (internal) is like medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Laughter (external) proceeds out of such a heart (Matthew 15:18). Because Jesus is the Great Physician, those who weep now will laugh. (Luke 4:23; 5:31; 6:2b).
By Daniel Downs