July 30, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Jesus recaps the biblical story not by pointing to human culpability, but by reminding us that the gospel is indeed good news. Those who mourn the great loss of humanity’s original potential are promised comfort of several kinds.
In the first Beatitude, Jesus resets our self-expectations as human beings. Jesus reminds us that we are not self-contained creatures. We are made to be vulnerable with God and with others. We are made for mutuality, for a relationship of openness, humility and trust with others. There is an essential, if unrecognized, poverty of spirit in each of us that reminds us of our need for the other.
Most of us experience such relationships only occasionally. In both our private and public lives, openness, humility and trust are uncommon. And that brings us to Jesus’ second Beatitude. “Blessed are those who mourn.”
The first Beatitude surprises us with our created condition and its resulting blessedness. The second Beatitude surprises us with the blessedness found in our brokenness as human beings. There’s little dispute that we live in a broken world. As Christian writers have observed, that we live in a fallen world (and that we ourselves are morally compromised) seems to be an empirically verifiable fact. What is surprising is that Jesus promises blessedness in that reality.
Jesus recaps the biblical story not by focusing on human culpability, but by reminding us that the gospel is indeed good news. Those who mourn the great loss of humanity’s original potential are promised comfort. As the great prophet Isaiah predicted, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7, NIV)
The kingdom of heaven (“Your God reigns!”) comforts us in our mourning because we are promised the restoration of three categories of losses.
First, we are promised the restoration of our full humanity. When someone screws up, you’ve probably heard it said that they’re doing something because “they are only human.” But the biblical narrative suggests just the opposite. We behave badly because we are not fully human. Our world and our history are filled with violent brutality, sexual exploitation, and oppression of the poor, all carried out by those of us who are human in name only. The memory of who we are created to be has seemingly been lost.
That is what Jesus has come to restore for us in the Sermon on the Mount. Given the vast distance between God’s original intention and our present reality, the second Beatitude is significant. Our first and natural response is to mourn. And rightly so. But Jesus tells us what we, like the returning prodigal son, can scarcely believe – that God our Father is waiting to welcome us with open arms, to comfort us with a compassionate and gracious embrace. And as that parable makes clear, we are not just welcomed and forgiven. Rather than being demoted to the role of a servant (as the prodigal at best expected at his return), we are restored to our place as a member of the family. Jesus’ teaching is inescapable. God wants nothing less than to restore each person to their full humanity.
Second, we are promised the restoration of the world in which we live. It is one thing to restore each of us individually, it’s another to fix the mess we’ve made of our world. In our generation perhaps as in none before, we are confronted with the reality of the effects of humanity on the planet. Even on a less-than-planetary scale, we each inhabit polluted worlds of our own. Each of us has had injustices and injuries done by others to us, and if we are honest, by us to others. These injustices and injuries are passed on from generation to generation, and leave an indelible mark on the histories of our worlds. How will those things be made right?
Clearly, we need not only personal forgiveness and restoration, but for our world(s) to be put right. That too is part of the good news that “Our God reigns!” God’s reign promises a restoration of what is wrong and a bringing to justice of those who do wrong. In human history, there are lots of examples of people who got away with murder, sometimes quite literally. But the promise of the gospel is that this will not always be so, nor will those wrongs be left unaddressed. There will come a day when everyone will be brought to account. And, on that day, the question will be answered that was asked by one of Tolkien’s characters, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Not only do we live in hope for that great day, but we live in light of that promise, by being people who comfort those who mourn, and who work in anticipation of that restoration each day, as far as we are able.
Finally, we are promised the restoration of the vocation to which we are called as human beings. Not only will we and our world be restored, but our work as God’s image-bearers and stewards is surprisingly embodied in Jesus’ blessing of those who mourn. I have written elsewhere about our calling to be lead servants. An essential element of that calling is that we willingly enter into the suffering of others. As Max De Pree observed, “Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.”
Jesus himself demonstrated in his death that our identity as human beings is deeply intertwined with our capacity for self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus’ blessing and comforting of those who mourn is not only an act of consolation for the oppressed, but also an act of encouragement to those who will follow his example to go and do likewise. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” is a reminder of the vocation of all who follow Jesus, who are called to enter into the suffering of others.
How have you seen yourself act in ways that are less than human?
How do you respond to Jesus’ call to mourn? What are things that you mourn about?
Focus on one of the categories of restoration in this reflection: our full humanity, our world, and our vocation as lead servants. Take time to reflect on what you might do to participate in that restoration in this coming week.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful for your great compassion and grace that does not treat us as our actions deserve. Thank you for your own sacrifice that makes possible the restoration of our full humanity, that remakes our world, and that invites us into your vocation as lead servant.
Grant us your Spirit to empower us to follow you.
We ask in your name. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, for They Will be Comforted” (Matthew 5:4)
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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Uli, I am so grateful for your God inspired insights and clear delineation of profound truths. This devotion reminds me of my own condition waffling between mourning (in the form of anger) and joy (comfort from Jesus). Restoring my own humanity, fixing a broken world, and practicing servant leadership perfectly organizes my requests for help from Jesus and my own way forward.