#YearOnTheMountaintop Episode 04 | God’s Favor: Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

In this session, we move into the second of the eight Beatitudes with another countercultural command from Jesus. In the last session, we talked about how the command to be poor in spirit contrasted with spirit of the age which said you should be rich in spirit. The second Beatitude turns things upside down as well. God’s favor is on those who mourn.

Now this is one that those listening to Jesus would have understood. Mourning—lament—is rooted to the center of the Jewish experience. Forty percent of the Psalms are laments. There’s a whole book in the Old Testament called Lamentations. Ancient Near Eastern culture was much more dramatic about mourning than we are in the modern Western culture. We’re talking professional mourners, sackcloth and ashes, huge performances that were meant to express grief and sorrow. But that’s unusual for us today.

We want to get back to a theology of praise. We want the financial systems to be on our side—and they usually are.
We want the political systems to be on our side—and they usually are.
We are used to unprecedented religious and personal freedoms.
We are used to an incredible level of convenience and wealth.
We are used to things going our way.
We can celebrate because we have got it all together.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes:

The well-off do not expect their faith to begin in a cry, but rather, in a song. They do not expect or need intrusion, but they rejoice in stability and the durability of a world and social order that have been beneficial to them.

Now here in the Beatitudes, Jesus is saying that God’s favor is on those who do not have those things. God’s favor is on those who mourn, those who lament, those who are broken over the brokenness of the world.

I want to point out here that this Beatitude makes a good argument for translating the word “blessed” as “God’s favor.” I’ve listened to some church leaders and some Bible translations try to simplify the Beatitudes by using the word “happy.” That mistranslation is built out of a theology of victory—that we avoid grief or sorrow and we must be happy even when circumstance dictate that we mourn. Happy are those that mourn is paradox and, in my mind, when I envision that phrase, I see someone with a happy mask on covering up their sadness. That is not what Jesus is recommending. He is not recommending happiness. He is not recommending a theology of victory.

When you hold a theology of victory, then you have to overlook suffering because suffering is a threat to your theological system. But when you hold a theology of lament, when you recognize and feel the weight of suffering, God’s favor is upon you and your mourning leads to comfort.

Even when the tragedy is not our own, we must take part of it upon ourselves. Even if we are not personally affected by this situation, we must be a part of the cure. Paul says in Romans:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Rom. 12:15

Then, in Galatians:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

Tragedy experienced alone is overwhelming. Tragedy experienced in community is uplifting. To know that you are not alone is a very powerful thing. It doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t lessen the suffering. It doesn’t remove the tragedy. But to know that someone is there with you gives you hope.

This Beatitude from Jesus calls us to lament because it is through lament that we find supernatural comfort and deliverance.

The word used for “mourn,” is not the typical one used in the New Testament. It is not an emotional weeping. It is a rational response to sin, to injustice, to oppression, that affects every fiber of one’s being. God’s favor is on those who recognize the world’s brokenness and respond appropriately to it.

It echoes Habakkuk:

How long, Lord, must I call for help
and you do not listen
or cry out to you about violence
and you do not save?

It is this sort of guttural cry for help, a recognition of systemic injustices and sins that are destroying whole people groups and nations. As I record this series, I could speak about any number of injustices that ravage the world. Racial injustice, economic injustice, inequality due to one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, or even just the place they’ve historically lived. The bombs fall, the bullets fire, the people starve—from bombed out hospitals in Gaza to sweatshops in China to police violence in America to the starving in Somalia to the sexually exploited in Thailand to the realization that almost all these things are happening almost everywhere.

God’s favor is on those who cry and rage and demand an answer: How long, O Lord? God is not troubled by Habakkuk’s raging. They do not get angry that the prophet is calling them to account. Habakkuk’s accusations toward God belie a close relationship with God. God wants us have our hears broken over sin. He wants us to rage over injustice. He wants us to be angry about the state of things in the world.

Just as recognizing our poverty of spirit allows God’s Spirit to join with us; recognizing the pain and agony of injustice joins us with God in doing something about it. This is where the healing begins—with the outworking of the community of God. When we are broken over sin, over injustice, over oppression—whether it is ours or not—when we cry out to God for deliverance and salvation and justice, God’s response is one of supernatural comfort.

The Holy Spirit that indwells us? The one who comes alongside our poverty in spirit to make us rich? Jesus calls that spirit the Comforter. During his last meal before his death, Jesus promises that he will give his disciples the Holy Spirit. The word he uses gets translated into a lot of things—”And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate…another helper…another comforter…another counselor…or my favorite translation, another friend.” The Greek word that gets translated into all these English words is “Paraclete.” Not parakeet, that’s a bird. But “para” meaning beside or next to and “kelein” meaning “to call.” The Spirit is a friend, one who is called to walk alongside another. It’s a version of paraclete that Jesus uses when he says that those who mourn will be comforted. Those who mourn—those who are broken over sin and injustice—will be given the presence of the Spirit to come alongside them.

In his first ever sermon—not this sermon, but one preached earlier, as recorded in Mark 2—Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he reads these verses:

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal[a] the brokenhearted,

The people of Israel at the time of Jesus looked forward to the restoration of the land from the Romans and their freedom from oppression. They knew and understood that the sin of their ancestors had led to exile. And their cry is that the Lord would have favor on them again. That they would be broken for their sins—both individually and corporately. That they would call out and mourn over the failures of their past and present.

We cannot overlook this aspect of what Jesus is saying. This is not just a personal gospel only for me and my issues. This is a gospel message for the world. I have to mourn over the system of sin in the world. I have to mourn over the sinful past of my ancestors. I have to mourn—and call out—injustice when are where I see it. Mourning is meant to lead to action, to repentance. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,

Godly mourning is accompanied by action. If that’s mourning over my sin, it’s actions to end that behavior. If it’s mourning over the sins of the church, it’s actions to end that behavior. If it’s mourning over the sins of a nation, it’s nations to end that behavior. Godly grief produces a repentance—a change, a demand for justice—that leads to salvation.

If I sorrow over this, it will drive me to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, as the author of Hebrews writes, and offer myself as a living sacrifice to God, as Paul says, that my nature becomes more and more like God’s nature. Those who are disturbed by sin and injustice will be those who receive the comfort of the Lord’s forgiveness and presence.

Womanist theologian Dr. Wil Gafney said in a sermon:

We are not alone in the horror engulfing the world, the waves of violence, shooting after shooting, massacre after massacre, bombing after bombing. God is active in the midst of the world’s fracture. God is here with us. God is here for us. And according to God in Habakkuk two thousand years and an unknown number of centuries ago, the healing has begun but we can’t see it yet, not even with our prophetic vision. It is beyond us but it is there.

God’s favor is upon those who mourn over sin, for they will be comforted and sanctified and cleansed—and even amid all the injustice, we can take comfort that in God’s kingdom community, all things will be made new.

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