The mourning that Jesus is referring to is a sorrow over our own unrighteousness. The Christian doesn’t bring one’s own worthiness before God but rather comes with the honest and humble recognition that we have no righteousness of our own. We are filthy sinners at enmity with God. We transgress the perfect law of God. We constantly sin and are unfaithful to God and to one another. A true and honest self-evaluation will inevitably reveal much within us to be sorrowful over.
The Christian life is no stranger to apparent paradoxes; apparent because they are not true contradictions. Yet there are many times where we seem pulled between two opposites. Walking the path between grace and truth can be a challenge in our interactions with others. We wrestle with the sovereignty of God and our own responsibility in our lives. In the beatitudes Jesus presents us with another one: blessed are those who mourn. How is this a Christian paradox, you may ask? Perhaps you have wondered how Jesus’ commendation of mourners squares with Paul’s command to “rejoice in the Lord always?” On the surface, a command to continually rejoice seems directly at odds with Jesus’ commendation of mourners. The answer lies in both the circumstances of our mourning and the promise that Jesus gives.
To solve the apparent paradox, we must first consider what Jesus means by mourning. Is Jesus saying that those individuals who walk around in sadness all the time are the truly blessed ones? Why would mourning be a virtue at all for God’s people? It is helpful to notice the two virtues that Jesus lists on both sides of this one: poor in spirit and meekness. Both of these are particular dispositions of humility and honesty toward one’s own character and abilities. So rather than seeing mourning as a life of continual sadness, we should see mourning as an attitude that there is something in us or about us about which we should mourn. If poorness in spirit is the realization that we have nothing in us of true worthiness, and meekness is the recognition that we have no inherent personal strength, then mourning should be seen as the recognition that there is something within us that should bring us true sorrow. It’s not that we walk around joyless and sad all the time, but rather that we recognize and mourn over something within ourselves. But what is that thing?
Set at the beginning of the sermon that encompasses the next few chapters of Matthew’s gospel, these beatitudes set the tone for what follows.