“Happy are those who mourn,” says one popular translation of the Beatitude in Matthew 5:4. It seems an impossibility, a contra¬diction of terms. Maybe we had better go back to the old familiar, “Blessed are they . . ." even if we’re not quite sure what that means, either!
The Greek word behind the translation is makarios (mah KAR ee oss). Long before the New Testament was written, makarios was used by the pagan Greeks as a description of the gods, not men. It meant to be happy -- blissful -- free from cares and worries. Before long the word was sometimes applied to men, especially if they were fortunate and wealthy. In these early years, to call someone blessed was the same as saying, “Congratulations!” Parents were congratulated on their children, wise men on their knowledge, and rich men on their wealth. Such people, thought the Greeks, were blessed.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, dating two hundred years before Christ, uses makarios similarly. When Leah had a second son through her handmaid Zilpah, she said, “Happy am I! For the women will congratulate me” (Genesis 30:13) . At the same time, the Old Testament sometimes displays a more serious side of the word, as in Job 5:17, “Happy is the man whom God reproves.”
Then comes Jesus with His shocking appraisal of the human condi¬tion: “You who are spiritually bankrupt -- congratulations! You who mourn -- good for you! You meek and lowly -- how fortunate you really are!” What was so good about feeling so bad? It was this: only those who recognize their souls' poverty will apply to God for a grant of grace. Only those who mourn their sorry state will be willing to relinquish the old life to death and experience the new birth. Only those who approach God on their knees will be allowed to stand in His presence.
You who are abandoning this world for a citizenship in heaven: Congratulations!