Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The next of the “blessings” that Jesus shares at the Sermon on the Mount is about loss. As you can tell, some of the translations below are identical, and the meaning of this text is clear. But you can also see that some translators will add their own interpretation into the translation itself.
Matthew 5:4 in Multiple Translations:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NIV & NRSV)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (KJV)
God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort! (CEV)
How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! (JBP)
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (MSG)
Mourning is one of our obvious challenges: It comes with the territory of life and love. In an “normal” life, your first experience of mourning is usually the loss of a pet. You then might be taken to a family funeral for a grandparent or even great-grandparent. If you live long enough, it is even “normal” to someday mourn your parents and other close family members. You also end up mourning for friends along the way as well. But we all know that most lives are not “normal.” Some lose their parents at a very early age and some even lose siblings and friends when they are still children.
Grieving is a loss of emotional and spiritual connection. When we have a loved one (either family or friend) we develop a relationship that has some real structure to it. A modern word for the quality of these connections it is “synergy.” It means that (when it comes to people) one plus one always equals more than the sum of their parts. When two people are working together, it adds up to more than their efforts individually. As usual, modern ideas often come up in old hymns. This hymn is from 1782:
Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
What adds up to more than two people are the actual ties that are formed between them. Every deep relationship creates ties that have their own existence.
If you consider a couple who are happily married, their relationship is like a new person that involves both of them. They are each individuals but the unity has its own reality. In the same way any family is more than the sum of its parts.
Another way of looking at this comes from a Jewish philosopher who was writing about a hundred years ago. He said that all deep relationships between two people (who respected each other as people and not as things to be manipulated) always involved God. He said that those ties that bind us together (and have a life of their own) are something that God creates. God not only creates it but is part of it.
So, we are blest to have these emotional and spiritual connections to people. And when someone dies, we lose both them and we lose something of God that existed between us. The ties are cut, and we are back to being individuals that have lost some of their own identity.
So, mourning is a loss of the other person as well as a partial loss of self.
The hymn I quoted earlier ends on a word of sorrow and hope.
When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.
The first good news is that we can find evidence in our own hearts that we remain in relationship to those who have died. Since it is a spiritual relationship, it doesn’t depend on time or space. Through my faith, I can have confidence that my relationships with family and friends may be subdued by death but not defeated.
For all people, when they part from friends and loved ones, there is hope to see them again. For a Christian, the hope also applies to relationships temporarily interrupted by death. The relationship is not only restored but transformed as we are transformed in the resurrection. You can think of heaven as a mutual quality of spiritual communion with God that is not limited by time or space.
Getting back to Matthew 5:4, we can say that mourning people are blest because they are part of something bigger than themselves. Not only that but they will be blessed by the restoration of that broken connection. Because of God, the love that binds us together will never die. People who are mourning are wounded, but their wounds will not only be healed, what they have lost will be restored to them.
Our society values some family ties as being significant, but not as much as Jesus teaches. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” means that we have a promise of salvation that is not limited to who we are as individuals. Love and friendship, and all those spiritual connections that are part of us are promised salvation as well.
Questions to Ponder: Do you sometimes sense the “ties that bind” you to loved ones who have died? Does it help you to know that God will comfort you and restore what you have lost?