Blessed are Those Who Mourn – Matthew 5:4

Like the poor in spirit in the first beatitude, those who mourn (πενθέω) can refer to those who are literally mourning a death. But the verb is used for any kind of sadness or grief. For example, 1 Corinthians 5:2, Paul suggests the church ought to be mourning over the sin of a member of their church (rather than having pride in their acceptance of the man who has been caught in sin).

Comforting those who mournThis beatitude may allude to Isaiah 61:1-4, specifically verse 3 (McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 41). When the anointed one (messiah) comes, he will comfort all who mourn and will give them a “crown of beauty” instead of ashes (mourning), and an oil of joy instead of mourning.  In the context of Isaiah 61, those who have returned from the exile live under oppression still, and are in a state of despair over the delay of the kingdom. When messiah comes, he will turn their state of despair into comfort and joy.

If this beatitude is an allusion to Isaiah 61, then the saying is tied to Second Temple messianic hopes. The speaker Isaiah 61 is “anointed by the Lord to preach good news.” According to Luke 4:14-29 Isaiah 61 is the text Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth and applied to himself at the beginning of his ministry.

For the original audience, then, “those who mourn” would be the Jewish people still living in the exile who were looking forward to the coming of the anointed one to restore Israel’s kingdom. John Nolland says, “Again, the state of ‘exilic’ suffering of Israel is evoked” (Matthew, 201). Instead of shame and disgrace, Israel will receive a double portion of their inheritance and have “everlasting joy” (61:7). In fact, the transformation of Israel’s mourning to joy is a regular metaphor for the eschatological age in the prophets. In the very next chapter of Isaiah Zion is like a woman who has been left desolate and deserted after the loss of her husband and children. But God will turn her mourning to joy and happiness, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). As with the first beatitude, Qumran community considered themselves to be living in a state of mourning. 1QH 23:14-15 likely alludes to Isaiah 61 when it describes the role of the community “to proclaim to the poor the abundance of your compassion, 15 […] … from the spring [… the bro]ken of spirit, and the mourning to everlasting joy.”

The ones in this state of mourning will be comforted (future passive of παρακαλέω). Although there is a future-ness to this comfort (the end of the exile and return of Israel), Jesus immediately begins to comfort those who are mourning in Matthew 8-9. He heals a man with leprosy, a servant with paralysis, and frees the demon possessed from their bondage. In Matthew 9:23-24 he raises a young girl from the dead, literally turning the sound of mourning into rejoicing.

Even though there is an eschatological edge to this verse, the saying certainly has a contemporary application for those who are in a state of mourning today. I do not want imply here that this verse does not mean those who are mourning the loss of loved will not comforted by God’s gracious Spirit. But by reducing it to only personal comfort in our own individual suffering may distract us from living out this saying as followers of Jesus. Just as reducing the first beatitude’s “poor in spirit” to some inner spiritual discipline, limiting this saying to personal comfort in a time of loss overlooks Jesus’s own activity: he goes to the poor and the sick where they are and he does things wo alleviate their pain and suffering.

How can a disciple live out this second saying by being the comforter in our communities? How can we go beyond the common application of comforting someone in a personal loss to proactively reaching out to the poor who are suffering right now?

11 thoughts on “Blessed are Those Who Mourn – Matthew 5:4

  1. Thanks for the insights on Jesus’ teaching here Phil. It gave me a different perspective.

  2. I think the best way we can apply this beatitude today is by genuinely coming alongside those who are mourning. It can be easy to have a sense of empathy for someone, yet at the same time think “I am so thankful it is not me”. That line of thinking, while undoubtedly a natural human trait, is not how we as believers should live. In the blog you state that “the verb is used for any kind of sadness or grief” (Long). There is so much grief in this world, the past 7 months have made that abundantly clear. As believers, how can we truly come alongside and mourn with those who are grieving? I believe by genuinely investing in others’ lives we can begin to truly understand their situation and grief. It is then that we may begin to have true empathy, whatever the injustice or tragedy may be. “They suffer and love those who suffer” (McKnight 40). It is that genuine love and empathy that can truly bring about change and comfort to others. McKnight says that Jesus is countercultural when it comes to responding to mourning (40). “Exile for the mourner didn’t mean adaptation, accommodation, activism, and apostasy but instead grief, faithfulness, suffering, and hope” (40). This is a good reminder to always first really check your heart before responding or acting out of grief. Mourning, or coming alongside someone who is mourning, when your heart is full of anger will not bring healing. In the same way, accommodating or straying from our beliefs while in mourning can also be detrimental. Instead, allowing that grief to be led by hope and faithfulness in God’s ultimate plan can help bring about a change in one’s own heart, which can then be seen on the outside to others. As McKnight says, “it is a longing for grace and justice and for kingdom and at the same time a commitment to faithfulness and hope” (41).

  3. Being there for someone who is mourning does not simply mean to have empathy for them. As Christians, it is our job to go out of our way and bless someone the best way we can. We can look to God for guidance and ask him what is the best way we can help them through this. One of the first things we should do as Christians is pray for them and pray with them. Help them in their walk with God, at times, when someone is mourning it is hard for them to stay focused on God because they are in so much hurt. It is our job to help lead and guide them closer to God during that time. Be there for them spiritual and emotionally, try to understand them, sit down and listen to them. At times, when people are mourning all they need is someone to be there with them and to walk beside them through that journey. God wants to us to be leaders and teachers of His word, so it is important that we go out into the world and do that.

  4. This beatitude is a really important reminder to me personally. Everyone suffers, everyone grieves – and often, as a community we tend to avoid that aspect of feeling. Rather than seeing it as a part of the human experience that God has blessed us with, we tend to avoid and look down on grief, pain, and suffering. This beatitude brings to light how important it is to let yourself mourn. To let yourself grieve. God made us feeling and emotional beings, and we are created to experience. We are created to love, cry, yell, run, play, work, etc. While Heaven will bring no more pain or suffering, we are broken people on this Earth and the pain that we experience does not have to go unnoticed. There is comfort in going to the Lord. Going to God will bring us comfort and joy rather than grief. In this post, there is an emphasis on mourning. We are called to be a community within Christ, and surround our brothers and sisters. Romans 12:15 states, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In this, we are to be with those who are suffering – accept them – love them – and surround them with the light of Jesus.

  5. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”. When we think of people who are blessed, we typically think of the joyful people, not the people who are sorrowing, However, Jesus brings a different view to our attention. The people who mourn are those who have experienced pain and brokenness of the world due to sin. In Isaiah we see an example of this when the Israelites mourn their exile, they long for the temple to be restored and for God to show them grace again (McKnight, 2013). Those who mourn is not just those who have lost loved ones or have been diagnosed with cancer, but those who are sorrowful for their sins. He offers comfort to us in other times of sorrow, but in this particular case I believe he is focused more on the mourning that comes with the realization of our fallenness and sinfulness. Scot McKnight points out that the beatitudes could be grouped into threes, specifically humility, justice, and peace (2013). Those who mourn are described as being humble. Pride is the opposite of humility, the proud deny their sin. Proverbs 16:5 says “The LORD detests all the proud of heart…” When we humble ourselves, we see the struggles and failings of ourselves and even the church. This ought to bring us grief. However, Jesus will not leave us there. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. This is how he comforts us. There is also a promise of His return, of a greater Kingdom. We are His children. There will come a day where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
    ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.
    McKnight, Scot. The Sermon on the Mount. The Story of God Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2013.

  6. The beatitudes are often looked over. Or at least I tend to want to skip them. It is very repetitive. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, etc. However, I have learned these passages are quite the opposite of ‘boring.’ There is a lot packed into these several verses. The ESV Study Bible has helpful comments by each of the verses. The commentary for Matthew 5:4 says, “The spiritual, emotional, or Financial loss resulting from sin should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing” (ESVSB, p. 1828). The poor in spirit, mourning, and meek verses all focus on the humility of the poor (McKnight, 2016). It is interesting to hear that the mourning is not only talking about mourning the loss of someone. This verse specifically suggests that the mourning is over Israel and its exile (McKnight, 2016). This verse can comfort someone by letting them know God is with them like He was with the Israelites. McKnight says, “Knowing God’s faithfulness and final justice, and anchoring one’s hope in what God will certainly do empower the ‘mourner’ to carry on faithfully” (McKnight, 2016). Knowing God is always with us, especially when we are mourning, is encouraging, and comforting. Knowing He is faithful to us can give us the courage to overcome our struggles.

    Crossway. (2011). Esv study bible: English standard version.
    McKnight, Scot and Longman, Tremper, (2016). The Story of God Bible Commentary. Sermon on the Mount. Zondervan.

  7. A lot of times I feel as though we mix up being there for someone. For example we have friends who may be mourning and we feel like we have to automatically have empathy for them. It is sometimes hard for myself to not always empathize with a person. It is okay to be there for someone and not always be empathetic. As young Christians we are taught to pray. We are not counselors, unless we are given a degree or going to school for that. I had to realize that as a Christian the best thing that I can do for someone is to literally pray for them. We need to give our problems to God no matter how big or small. There are a lot of people who will probably say, how do I know that God will fix this issue or problem. We can tell them all of the wonderful works that God has done. For example Jesus freeing a demon possessed from their bondage, or healing the man with leprosy. When talking to “poor” people we should hear their story. It is okay to be there for someone. After that we take it to God no matter what.

  8. This is a beatitude that I have learned and applied in my life recently. I think it is important for us, as believers, to act on this. There are many people in the world today who are suffering. Often we can be “too busy” in our lives that we only do the bare minimum for others. Yet the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This beatitude is a great reminder that we should be doing more for others and those that are mourning. In my personal life last year, my family suffered two losses in two months. It was the first time I was experiencing my parents going through mourning a death. But what we clearly remember was those people that came and prayed with us. It filled our hearts with joy and peace. After that, I realized how important it is to walk alongside someone that might be going through pain, suffering, or grieving. We are humans and God created us to have feelings. Psalms 34:18 states, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saved the crushed in spirit”. I love this verse, because it’s a reminder that as believers, that we need to look out for the brokenhearted like God.

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