Keeping with my new series of posts, today I reflect on the second Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (NABR Mt. 5:4).
Giving a quick glance at thesaurus.com’s list of synonyms for “mourn,” one could, based on such a list, say those who ache, agonize, bemoan, bewail, grieve, yearn, or anguish are blessed. These terms would give a good sense to the original Greek term penthein which “signifies intimate, intense, heart-breaking sorrow” (Forest 38) and follows naturally from the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” for this “poverty of spirit is inseparable from mourning” since without the “poverty of spirit, I am always on guard to keep what I have for myself, and to keep me for myself” (Forest 38).
This mourning is a deep mourning, a deep mourning that sensitizes one to the sufferings of others as well. In other words, compassion is born of this mourning. Compassion–from com, “together,” and passion, “to suffer.”
But if Jesus did say these words, he would have said them in the language he spoke, Aramaic and would have, according to Neil Douglas-Klotz, used the word makika, which also contained the meaning “to be in confusion or turmoil, to wander, literally or figuratively” (49).
Naturally, when we mourn (say the loss of a loved one) we may feel lost, confused. We my ask the question “Why?” Naturally mourning may cause us, in trying to understand the reason for our sorrow, to wander through life until that sense of purpose, the meaning of our suffering is understood.
In my previous post, I explored the word “Blessed” and here would like to add that the word for “blessed” in Aramaic that “begins each saying can also be translated at ‘ripe'” (Douglas-Klotz 48). Not nearly ripe, but ripe. Ready. So those who are blessed are ripe, that is to say, they are ready, prepared, in the state to receive that which Jesus promises in the second half of the Beatitudes.
So those who mourn, in this case, are in the space to be comforted, from the Greek parakalein, meaning “not only ‘to be comforted or consoled’ but ‘finding an ally or helper'” and the further connotation of “‘to exhort or encourage'” and “being invited to a banquet” (Forest 46). Those who mourn will find consolation, will find another who, having mourned him/herself is there to comfort, to encourage. In the Christian context this is, quite naturally, God. Taking the notion of being invited to a banquet into consideration, it might be said that the mourning itself is the invitation and one must walk with and through the suffering, through the mourning in order to arrive at the banquet, the sumptuous feast.
Adding yet another layer to the meaning of comfort which in Aramaic “can also mean to be united inside, to return from wandering, or to see the face of what one hopes for” (49). If mourning is an invitation, this invitation is that which guides one forward–one returns from wandering–toward the “face of what one hopes for.”
When we are confused, we do not see clearly, for that which may be distinguished from one another are mingled, like strands of tangled string. Thus while we may be confused in our mourning, Jesus promises that such not need remain the case–he is saying that these in these experiences, in these sufferings, we will be comforted, those strings will be united, we will return from wandering, and we will find that which we were searching.
As opposed to first Beatitude, where Jesus’ promise is spoken of in the present tense, he says in the second, “they will be comforted.” This is a promise, a promise of what is to come.
But how? When might this promise come to fruition. Remember, to be blessed to be ripe. One is ready, so implied in being blessed is comfort’s immanence.
The clue to this question, I think, rests in the first Beatitude. One must first recognize one’s destitute state and do something about it as “Blessed are the poor in spirit” suggests, for the poor in spirit, being destitute, beg as I discussed in my previous post. The effort being put forth, the effort necessary to proceed from receiving the invitation to walking with that suffering, with that mourning, until one finally arrives at the banquet where, in being blessed one participates in the divine life.
To be comforted is to participate in that divine life as is, then, acting compassionately towards another who mourns, who is confused, who wanders, who is waiting for an ally, a helper to exhort and encourage those in the throes of deep, heart-breaking sorrow.
A question to end: How have you comforted others? How have others comforted you?
Douglas-Klotz, Neil. The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of Aramaic Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1999.
Forest, Jim. The Ladder of the Beatitudes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.
Verbrugge, Verlyn D. (ed). New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.