BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN (Mt. 5:4).
The story of Job in the Bible is about a man who had fallen on hard times. He lost his children, his material possessions and his wife was ready to leave him. Sorrow did not destroy the man, but his comforters or mourners almost did. His four comforters, instead of sharing his sorrow, they added to it by looking for reasons why he was being punished. Forty some years ago, my wife suffered severe nerve pain for four and one half years. Surgery would have disabled her for life. Time was the only cure. She lay in a bed in Cooperstown and had three visitors. One was a clergy friend and he carelessly remarked, “I knew some one with that condition and he put a gun to his head.” A younger minister with a large Bible under his arm stopped at her bed and asked, “What sin have you committed to suffer that much?” A Catholic sister sat down beside my wife, took her hand and said gently, “ My dear, the Lord must love you very much to let you endure this pain.” She most definitely was a dispenser of grace.
In 1940 and again in 1945, we were driven from our homes, our country, our relatives and friends. We ended up living among strangers, we did not understand nor were we welcomed. I was fourteen at the time and was cultivating a field with a horse and a cow. I had such a longing for home that I cried my heart out. I was not just mourning for the loss of a loved one but for the homeland war had taken from us and there was no one that could comfort me. When I think back about those lonely days, I am grasping a little of what Jesus must have felt when He wept over Jerusalem, when the captives in Babylon wept at the wailing wall, when Jeremiah shed tears over his shattered nation or when Heraclites wept when Athens had lost her glory. Who then were the mourners Jesus had in mind that could dispense comforting grace? Jesus dealt with this topic out of his own experience. He had already been rejected by his family and driven from his hometown. Then, for the sake of his love for his fellow men, He was facing humiliation, rejection and death. His own followers would betray, deny and desert him. What kind of blessing and comfort did He receive? Strangely enough, it did not come from those of whom it was expected. In fact, his own family wanted to commit him. Total strangers were more sympathetic to his cause than those to whom Jesus felt obligated. Unfortunately, this tendency has affected every generation from Adam on. We mourn and comfort others but not ourselves, and we are being comforted not by our own but by total strangers. Comforters are dispensers of grace. Some of the greatest blessings can come from comforting others and from being comforted.
The word “mourn” comes from the Greek “pentheo” and means “complaining” or “feeling sorry for one self.” The latter had to do with death. Our Greek text, however, uses the participle “penthountes.” It should be rendered, “Blessed are those who mourn” rather than “Blessed are the mourners.” Jesus was addressing his disciples who soon would mourn his departure. Hence, he was not concerned with professional mourners, but with his followers when their sorrow would turn into joy. Mourning must be understood in a proper setting. Otherwise, it will make us feel apprehensive. It leaves us with the impression of sad faces that do nothing else but complain. They are jinxes of endless bad luck. They are weepers wrapped in self-pity. Their pessimistic outlook spells nothing but disaster or doom. But before we judge them too harshly, we must be reminded that all of us suffer from a streak of pessimism. Far too often we prove to be the cause or obstacle rather than the blessing or comfort. I have been severely burned and had a few visitors whose faces spoke louder than their words. How much I wished that these well-meaning people had never come to see me. The fact was that they persisted in their visitation and kept on adding to my already beaten spirit.
A second connotation is that the ancient world had professional mourners. These were people who were hired to wail and moan over the dead. Particularly unpopular people availed themselves of this service. Herod the Great willed that many be murdered so that the entire country would mourn at his passing. For the Hebrews, it was terrible to die because the dead no longer could participate in serving God (Ps. 115:17). Christians, who believe in the resurrection, stage uplifting memorial services. The dead are being eulogized into the kingdom of heaven. One skeptical mother nudged her boy and whispered, “Go and see whether it is papa in the casket.” Our point is that this was not the group Jesus had in mind. Losing some one close to us, even if we dispense him/her to heaven, it is no cause for rejoicing. My saddest times in my life were when I lost my baby sister, my ten – year old friend, my ten – year old brother and our baby grandson. I mourned less for my parents who left this world in the nineties, because they had lived their lives and seen enough of this world from Siberia to Canada. This should give the reader an idea where I have been and why I see things a bit differently.
The people closest to Jesus were his disciples. He was telling them that they should consider it a blessing when they will have to mourn over his passing. When He, the bridegroom, will be taken from them, then they will experience great sorrow and have a reason to mourn (Mt. 9:15). In addition, they too would face persecution, suffering and death. Wolves or false leaders will enter the sheepfold and devour the sheep, warned Jesus (Jn. 10:12). Yet, in the midst of their predicament, they will have no one else to mourn for them. Hence, they will mourn over themselves briefly and move on. Their life and ministry will be one of victory and not of death. The dead will have to bury their own dead, but they will have to keep on spreading the Gospel and the Gospel message take the mourner beyond death into life hereafter (Lk. 9:60). The dead are not buried but resurrected. Mourning was to become a victory celebration for the departure for heaven and not a committal to the grave.
Jesus himself set the example for this type of a mourner. The second time that Jesus wept was at the grave of his friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:17-44). He wept because his friends did not know that Lazarus was asleep and not dead. It was natural to miss a loved one on earth and leave an empty place like Lazarus, but it was a temporary loss. Jesus demonstrated to his friends and his disciples that he was the life-giver and woke Lazarus up from his slumber. He turned mourning into victory (Jn. 10). Jesus made it more than a victory. He turned mourning into the dispensing of grace. The first to experience grace was Mary Magdalene, on the day she found an empty tomb and he risen Lord in the garden, where the sepulcher was located. Mary was crying and two angels could not comfort her, but Jesus did by calling her by name and she recognized the stranger by his voice in the twilight. She was ready to embrace him, but was told go and bring comfort to his disciples and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn.20). Being comforters to our loved ones is being dispensers of grace. The word’s of Paul to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life we who are in Christ have only hope, we are of all men most to be pitied.” The Christian is the only one that can turn sorrow into comfort because “his heart is no longer troubled;” for Christ has promised to him/her, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3).
Mourning ought to become an expression of gratitude that God’s Spirit assists us in facing losses with courage and hope. Jesus himself recognized the “Spirit of the Lord” being on him (Lk. 4:18). It is puzzling how the Spirit of the Lord can be on the Son of God? Paul was divinely inspired to give us the answer in Philippians 2:6-11. The Son of God, laid aside his divine attributes, and became a human being like the rest of us, and demonstrated that a human being can live as a dispenser of God’s grace in this world. The writer to the Hebrew Christians left us this description of Jesus the man, “For we have not a high priest who is not able to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus needed an angel to strengthen in him Gethsemane before he faced the trial, the degradation and the cross (Lk. 22:43). His real test was yet to come. It was when Jesus hung on the cross that he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mt. 27:46). Then, with a loud voice from a man whose human energy was completely drained, still could be heard saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Just before those final words, Jesus forgave his crucifiers and promised paradise to a criminal. He comforted those that needed comforting at a time when he needed it more than they did (Lk. 23:32-43).
Not too long ago, I visited a couple that were married past their golden years, and they have gone on to be with the Lord. I came with the attitude to lift them up and hoped to be of some help or encouragement. They overwhelmed me with such humility that I did not feel worthy of, and I came away more blessed by anyone else in this world in over eight years. They made it through very difficult times with ill health and many unforeseen circumstance, but never lost their perspective of why God had put them in this world. They were true “makarioi” –dispensers of blessings and of grace. When I arrived in Canada at the age of twenty-one and one half year later, I laid dying in a hospital from a fire accident, one of the volunteers came to my bedside and adopted me as if I was her own. She notice that my English needed held and she found a Dutch minister who spoke German. When they shipped me to Toronto for treatment, she and nurse traveled with me and watched over me. In Toronto, she had two ministers include me in their care, one English and one German and both men directed me with my future. A friend of hers did all my banking and legal work. We remained friends until she and her husband passed on. They were especially please that I had recovered from seventy percent physical disability to become a self-sustain person in this world. They, in my book were true “makarioi” – dispensers of love and grace, without whom I was lost. They brought hope when there was only despair.