Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Beatitudes 102: Blessings in Mournings and Meekness"

Matthew 5: 4-5

2 Corinthians 7: 9-10

Isaiah 61: 1-4

      This morning, we are confronted with, and challenged by, the 2nd and 3rd of Jesus’ nine beatitudes

which open His Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” As with the first beatitude we talked about last

week, we are again hit in the chops with statements which, on the face of some of them, seem

oxymoronic; self-contradictory.  In fact, all of the beatitudes hold within them the potential to shake

us at the level of our foundational beliefs about life, and how things are supposed to work.

      The world’s conventional wisdom teaches that mourning, grief, sorrow, are states of mind and soul

we are most blessed to avoid.   If we can somehow manage to get through life with a bare minimum

of these things, we are considered more fortunate than the poor soul whose life is filled with them.

But as we well know, no life escapes some share of devastating illness, death of loved ones, separation, divorce,

loss of employment – all of which can drive us to our knees and break our hearts.  Some lives seem to have what we sometimes call “more than their fair share.” 

     In light of this reality, the world’s methodology is not always helpful in offering healthy and productive

coping mechanisms for our sorrow.  Most of the time, we’re encouraged to cover up, or at least take the edge

off our mourning as opposed to working through it.  We try to manage with medication – clinically legitimate,

or otherwise. We seek other routes and relationships of escape – healthy, or otherwise.  We deny the reality

of our pain, and compensate in ways which help us not to have to face it; trying to convince the world – and ourselves –

that there’s nothing wrong, when there is. Whatever way we might choose to avoid that God-given coping tool we cal

l grief or mourning, more is lost than gained.  And frankly, we’re saturate in a culture which preaches a perpetual

feel-good approach to life over against meeting life head on – it’s joys, its sorrows, it’s challenges.  Folk singer Joni Mitchell

once put her finger on this therapeutic of escape in a song called “Coyote,” wherein she observed, “the players lick their wounds,

and take their temporary lovers, and their pills and powders to get them through this passion play.” 

         Here, Jesus stands in the face of the world’s conventional wisdom when He claims: “blessed,”

blissful, favored by God, “makarios  are those who mourn.”  Rather than glossing over or seeking a

therapeutic of escape, Jesus appears to encourage a head-on approach; even suggesting that we welcome mourning as

something which blesses us.  Now I don’t believe Jesus is at all suggesting our

looking for trouble or tribulation so we can find blessing in it.  That’s unhealthy, if not pathological. 

But Jesus was keenly aware of the gritty side of the human condition.  He knew that mourning, sorrow, grief –

as much as we detest it and seek to avoid it – is simply a part of the storyline of this  

human passion play.

      Yet Jesus says something more of mourning than that it’s merely an inevitable part of the human

experience to be met head-on.  By appending the word “blessed” to “those who mourn,” Jesus is

suggesting that there is some value in mourning; that mourning and sorrow have a place in life which

nothing else can assume.  There’s a story that Sir Edward Elgar, a renowned English composer, was

once listening to a young music student singing.  She had a beautiful voice, perfect pitch, startling

presence and faultless technique.  But in Elgar’s opinion, she was just a hair short of greatness.  He

commented that “She will someday be great, but only after something happens to break her heart.” 

      It’s been said that there are things only mourning, grief, sorrow can teach.  Sorrow adds a dimension to our

personhood; a cubit to our character; a depth of passion to our song.  In the midst of

mourning, grieving, sorrowing, some of life’s greatest discoveries are made. It is often in the depths of

 mourning that a person discovers the things which really matter the most, and the things which really

do not.  In the milieu of our grief, we often discover the meaning of true friendship; the value of

family; the reality of love; the shallowness of material things; the beauty of nature; the sanctity of life. 

It is in sorrow that a person frequently learns whether his or her faith is a superficial ornament of life,

or the very foundation upon which her or his life depends.  Similar to what we talked about last week

with regard to “the poor in spirit,” it is usually in the depths that people discover the real presence of

the Almighty [a presence which, of course, has been there all along].  “When you come to the bottom,”

Anglican bishop Neville Talbot once said, “there you find God.”  So in this deep sense, it is literally true

that mourning has its own unique blessedness to give……. “for they will be comforted.”  That is to

say, those who mourn shall be in a state of spirit to recognize, receive, and embrace comfort.

      When my father passed away some twenty years ago, it was my most significant personal loss, and

the occasion of my deepest grief.  Yet my wife’s quiet presence and her shoulder for me to cry on felt

more like the quiet presence and supporting shoulder of Christ than I’d ever experienced.  When so

many members of the church I served in Carrollton traveled all the way to Pittsburgh to be with me in

my time of loss, I sensed a comfort more powerful and more profound than I had ever known before. 

The love shown by relatives and friends, in big and small ways, was nothing less than God-sent.  I was

broken-hearted over my dad’s death. Yes.  But out of that mourning arose an overwhelming comfort

which began to dry my tears and helped me cope; helped me put things in perspective.  So in a very

real and tangible way, I was blessed – even favored by God – in my grief.  For I was the recipient of

comfort, insight and wisdom with which I would not have otherwise been makarios; “blessed.”

      Another aspect of this beatitude which I’d be remiss to overlook, but will spend only a moment on,

is that “blessed are those who mourn” could apply to those who mourn, grieve, and sorrow over sin;

over personal sin; over the sins of the world.  Blessed is the person who is moved to bitter sorrow at

the realization of his or her transgression.  For the way to God is the way of the convicted and broken

heart.  If the mourning soul is moved to penitence – a genuine, deep, grieved sense of sorrow for

one’s sin – the way is made clear for salvation; the ultimate source of comfort for the soul.  Paul wrote

in his correspondence to the Corinthian Church:  “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to

salvation and brings no regret…”  St Augustine told of the days before his conversion:  “I grew more

wretched, and thou (O God) didst grow nearer.” 

      So in the temporal as well as in the spiritual sense, we can see how there is blessedness, bliss, even

Godly favor in the experience of mourning.  The blessing is in what we can discover, and where we

can be led through our mourning; not in spite of it.  And those who believe that a lifetime of freedom

from mourning is the true blessing might consider words of an Arab proverb which simply reminds us

that “All sunshine makes a desert.”

      Jesus’ next point in His sermon really seems radical, especially when we hear it in the context

where the powerful – the Gate’s, the Zuckerburg’s, the Trump’s, the Buffet’s, the Turner’s – pretty 

much control the playing field.  “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus dares to claim, “for they shall inherit

the earth.”  If we’re going to make some sense of this beatitude, we need to understand what the

word “meek” means in this context.

      The Greek word praus (praus) which translates “meek” is a word often misunderstood.  When I

hear the word meek, my mind goes to two patients of psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley on the old Bob

Newhart Show.  One was Mr. Hurd, a pathetic soul who bounced from job-to-job and situation-to-

situation because he lacked backbone and enterprise.  The other was Mr. Peterson whose small

 

stature and high-pitched voice caused him to live in fear of and subservience to his overbearing wife

Doris.  In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word praus doesn’t describe someone who is

a weak, milquetoast, spineless person, lacking virility; submissive and subservient; unable to stand up

for him or herself, or for anyone else.  Quite the contrary, praus or “meek” describes one who is

under control of self.  The descriptive term we’d use today would be “self-disciplined.”  This is key to

understanding the meaning of this third beatitude.  In the Greek understanding, the virtue of meek-

ness describes an individual who is well-balanced; thoughtful; temperate; not reckless on the one

hand, or cowardly on the other; but rather courageous which splits the difference.  Praus describes a

person who is neither excessively angry on the one extreme, nor excessively angerless on the other;

but one who feels and expresses anger on the right grounds, against the right things, in the right manner,

at the right moment, and for the right length of time. Against the backdrop of the Hellinistic

worldview of Jesus’ day, to the meek belonged the ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation;

not to embark on revenge; not to be easily provoked to anger, but free from bitterness and grudges; having

tranquility and stability in spirit.  Now I’ll bet you had no idea the simple word “meek” could be loaded with so much meaning.

      In a nutshell, to understand the third beatitude, we need to remove the equal sign from between

the words meek and weak.  They are not synonymous.  The meekness Jesus speaks of describes the

person who acts with gentleness and graciousness when he or she has it in his or her power to act

with sternness and severity.  “Blessed” -- makarios is the person who is praus -- powerful, yet self-

controlled; balanced; moderate and temperate, “for they shall inherit the earth.”

      Surely two of the best examples of persons in the Bible who fit this mold of meekness are Moses,

who is described in Numbers chapter 12 as very meek above all men who were on the face of the

earth, and of course Jesus, who made the claim of Himself as recorded in Matthew 11 that He is meek

and lowly in heart.  History has rarely seen a leader with more strength and force of character than

Moses, nor a leader with a greater gift of righteous anger when there was occasion for it.  And the

world has never seen a more dynamic expression of power balanced with gentleness than in the

personality and life of Jesus of Nazareth.  These are examples of meekness which is makarios.

     To the praus -- the “meek” a promise is made:  “they shall inherit the earth.”  This obviously

doesn’t mean inheriting or having handed down the material riches of the world, for neither Moses

nor Jesus were blessed with these things.  The meaning is much deeper than superficial trappings. 

There is an Old Testament proverb which says that “He who is slow to anger is better than the

mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”  Is this not an ancient way of saying

that in the scheme of things, cool heads and sound judgment prevail?  And so we see that the self-

disciplined; the level-headed; the steady-spirited; those balanced in all things; the strong who don’t

abuse their strength, and the powerful who don’t abuse their power.  It is these who remain standing

at the end of the day; these who will ultimately control the field.  The hotheads and power mongers

rule only for a season.  But eternal inheritance of the good things of the earth are handed down to the

praus.  These meek also recognize from whom the inheritance comes.  It comes from the One under

whose control the meek yield.  It is the control and will of Almighty God.

      So this third beatitude might be paraphrased based on our growing comprehension of the original

New Testament Greek:  Blissful and favored by God is the one who has committed to God, is controlled

by God and controlled within self, for such a person will be right with God, right with self, right with
others, and will ultimately prevail when all lesser earthly rule will fall. 
That’s a mouthful, but isn’t it

 

good to know that “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102