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Knowing Great Joy

by Michelle Wilson on May 13, 2022

As I’ve been continuing to meditate on the Beatitudes, I focused this week on the following words, 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  (Matt. 5:4 NIV)

This is another puzzling verse. How can it be that people who are grieving are happy? Jesus’ explanation is that they will be comforted. This reminds me of a story Jesus tells about a man named Lazarus.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.     

Luke 16:19-25

The poor man received comfort after all of his sufferings. But the rich man who had seemed to have everything good was in agony. This would likely have surprised Jesus’ hearers at the time.  It was generally thought that prosperity was a sign of God’s favor, and suffering was a sign of God’s disfavor. A person with lots of good things must be a good person whom God desires to reward. And a person who has many hardships must be a bad person whom God is punishing. But here, Jesus makes it clear that this is not so. In fact, much the opposite. The imbalance of the rich man’s life and the poor man’s life is an injustice that must and will be corrected in due time. Not so long from now, the one who has experienced loss in this life will experience blessing in the life to come. And those who stood idly by, enjoying good things without a care, will see the tables turned on them.

The church has sometimes imagined the kingdom of God as something in the distant future, only to be experienced after death. Sadly, this leaves the present arrival of the kingdom of God in this world and this time overlooked. At the same time though, there is an opposite danger in focusing too much on this life and this world, as if this world were all there is. How much might we still be buying into the idea that getting what we want in this world means God is pleased with us and wants good things for us more than for other people? Instead, the truth is that the present state of affairs is both temporary and terribly broken. But the time is already starting to come when all things will be renewed and set right. 

Many of us at Coast, including myself, have experienced deeply painful losses so that our hearts ache continually over them. Jesus has assured us that our comfort is coming and that it is real and lasting and truly good. Even in the midst of our pain, we can find happiness in knowing great joy is coming to us. If this is your situation today, may the Spirit give you this assurance, and may you find comfort in it here and now as well as in the future. At the same time, many of us at Coast are surrounded by good things that make us happy here and now. I count myself among this second group as well as the first, looking around at how God has provided for me with such abundance and surrounded me with the love of family and friends. Jesus’ words also serve as a warning to us in our present comfort that what we have will only bring us real and lasting happiness to the extent that it is shared with those around us. Let’s welcome the Spirit to lead us into comforting others in need and finding our true happiness there. 

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