ListenWhen Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).
Dr. Girdwood opened his sermon by focusing on the paragraph directly preceding Matthew 5. In Matthew 4:23-25, the crowds gravitate around Jesus because they saw that he could heal them from their afflictions, illnesses and diseases. Some were paralyzed, some were blind, and some were demon-possessed. And in each case, Jesus demonstrated the amazing power that God had given him. Every person was healed! As a result, the crowds following Jesus grew and grew. However, as Dr. Girdwood reminded us, healing people of their bumps and bruises was not why Jesus stepped down out of heaven. Jesus came to demonstrate how we live in God’s kingdom! Therefore, he takes a seat and begins to talk about those who are blessed, those who are citizens. Ron Allen challenges the traditional notion that “blessed” means “happy” when he writes that those who are blessed “live in the confidence that God is at work to bring about a realm of peace and love and joy and abundance.” That is certainly “good news” for people who have experienced a great deal of suffering.
What does it mean to mourn? Dr. Girdwood really challenged the common notion regarding prayer. Too often our prayers are weak. We focus solely on ourselves and our problems instead of looking to the larger concerns of the world. When I teach on this passage, I focus on both the micro-meaning and the macro-meaning of this passage. On one hand, we do need to mourn the problems that we personally face, such as chronic sin or being rejected from a job because of the color of our skin. On the other hand, however, we cannot be full citizens of the kingdom unless we are mourning the state of the world. As Randy Harris challenges, we must mourn for children who die from disease and for those succumb to their own mental anguish by taking their own lives. And, as Dr. Girdwood challenged, we must mourn for political injustice and social oppression. We mourn for these ills when we turn to God in prayer and ask for God to intervene. In doing so, we will be comforted. In doing so, we will be blessed.
1. Find the article entitled "Experiences in Need of Ritual" by Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley (in the 5 November 1997 issue of Christian Century). How can you personally mourn for (minister to) those who have lost family members in a way that points them to God? How can we remind them that God loves them even in the midst of tragedy?
2. Visit the Church of England’s website and click on “Topical Prayers” (www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/topical-prayers.aspx). Dedicate seven days to praying for the concerns listed there. Record your prayers in a journal so that you can see how God honors your prayers in the future.
Ronald J. Allen, “The Surprising Blessing of the Beatitudes,” in Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, ed. David Fleer and Dave Bland (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007), 88.
Randy Harris, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012), 30.