This investigation is the result of a statement which appeared, and was expounded at length, in materials for a study group :
“Christ’s call for us to mourn together in the face of sin and suffering is a humble declaration of our own brokenness.”
Never having perceived such a “call”, I asked my usual question: “Did Jesus ever say that?”, and determined to find out. The answer is a resounding “NO!!!”
In fact, the English word “mourn” appears only ten times in the entire New Testament, and represents three different Greek words. (Contrast that with the seven words, and more than 70 appearances of “rejoice!” – W.S. #93)
Trench lists four words, only three of which are translated “mourn” in the NT.
Lupeomai, the most general, refers to any form of pain, grief or sorrow, and is the opposite of chaireo , “to rejoice.”
Pentheo, a stronger word, (L/S) is primarily a mourning for the dead, often, but not always, as a public event. It is often joined with klaiein, to cry.
Threneo, often joined with oduresthai, is “to bewail or make a dirge over the dead.” It may take the form of wailing or lamentation, or a poetic composition or song.
Koptein, derived from kopto, “to cut or smite”, referred to the dramatic beating of one’s head or breast in sign of grief. At times, it even involved the cutting of one’s body.
None of the gospel references to any of these words, or even related concepts, has anything whatever to do with one’s “sinfulness”. They are uniformly related to death: the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem (Mt.2:18), children “playing funeral” (Mt.11:17 and Lk.7:32), Jairus’ daughter (Lk.8:52); Jesus’ own impending death (Lk.23:27, Jn.16:20), or his disciples’ grief after his burial (Mk.16:10), as well as the Ac.8:2 account of Stephen’s death. The only exceptions are the occasion in Mt.24:30, where “the tribes of earth” are just plain terrified of the chaos that surrounds them, and Jesus’ response to the question of fasting (Mt.9:15) referring to a wedding party as an example for his disciples celebrating is presence among them. These are a bit of an anomaly but certainly without any accusations of “sinfulness”!
Consequently, the twisting of the reference to “mourning” in the “Beatitudes” to force any such implication is unwarranted, and wholly without precedent. Sadness at the loss – even temporarily – of a loved one is perfectly normal, not wrong or unfaithful. Even Jesus shared that (Jn.11:33).
There is another extremely crucial component here, which is almost always missed by readers of the English text, due to the inadequacy of our language (see the introduction to Pioneers New Testament). It is shared with all the rest of the Beatitudes, and indeed with most (not all) of the Sermon on the Mount: the subject of each statement is plural! “The poor”, “the mourners”, “the meek”, yes, all the way to “the persecuted”, are all treated in a group context! Not only these, but virtually all of even the normal but distressing vicissitudes of life are SO much more bearable when they are shared! In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that this may be why the “blessing” begins and ends with belonging to the Kingdom! This is the ultimate in sharing, and of life as it was intended to be lived!
In addition to the Gospel uses of “mourning”, there are four references in the epistles, quite different from one another, although they do deal more specifically with behavior than do those in the gospels.
In I Cor.5:2, Paul scolds that brotherhood for taking pride in their “acceptance / tolerance” of unacceptable behavior (How contemporary!) saying, in effect, that they should rather “mourn” (be ashamed) to have done so.
In II Cor.2:21, he speaks of his own distress at the departure of some of their members from faithfulness, and in II Cor.7:7, he commends the repentance and reformation of those who realized their error and changed their ways.
In Jas.4:9, we see a bit of a reprise of Lk.6:25. Both – Lk.6:24-26 and Jas.4:8-10 – are in a context of critiquing the arrogance of the wealthy and their disregard for the needy around them. These latter two, I suppose, are the only ones that could be imagined to focus on “sinfulness”, but both are quite specific, and not a general, undefined condition.
Of the remaining references, all are in the Revelation, and six of the seven occur in Rv.18:7,8,9, and 11. (The other, Rv.1:7, parallels Mt.24:30). The topic is the final fall of “Babylon”, the symbol of the economic system that has oppressed the “poor” and the “faithful” alike. The “mourners” are not those of Mt.5, who are proclaimed “blessed” or “privileged”, but rather those who had luxuriated in the excesses that Babylon’s merchants had supplied!
Don’t waste any sympathy there! The instructions to the faithful are in v.20: “Celebrate [rejoice] over her, heaven, God’s people, envoys [apostles], and prophets! God has passed judgment on her FOR YOU!” (Perhaps our response to such collapse reveals to which “camp” we belong!)
Rather than twisting Jesus’ words to condemn his earnest followers, calling them “spiritually bankrupt” and “broken”, we should take – and offer – encouragement (a better word for parakaleo than “comfort” – stay tuned for that one!) from Jesus’ recognition that mourning and sorrow will be a part of this life. He’s “been there, done that”, and so he knows and understands.
But he – and consequently we – know that that “mourning” is not the last chapter!
Together, we can look forward to his promise:
“He will dry every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist: neither will grief nor crying nor pain exist any longer. The former things are gone!”
The one sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” (Rv.21:4,5)
Until then, give thanks for the blessing that we wait – endure – yes, and even “mourn” – together.
Thanks be to God!