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Blessed are they that Mourn for they shall be Comforted
The passages below are taken from Billy Graham’s book “The Secrets of Happiness,” published by W. Publishing Group in 1955 and updated in 1985.
THERE COMES a time in our lives when good-natured, well-meant encouragement like “Hang in there, pal” and “Cheer up, friend” fail to hoist us our of the doldrums. Because our needs are deeper than psychological, such suggestions only seem to make keener our feeling of helplessness.
The truth is: Regardless of our cleverness, our achievements, and our gadgets, we are spiritual paupers without God.
Christ’s message was directed to one specific group—--to the “poor,” the poor in spirit. Christ said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18 KJV). This did not mean that Christ’s message was only for the financially poor, the socially poor, or the intellectually poor. It meant that it was for those who recognized their spiritual poverty. That was the first Beatitude. It was the dominant note upon which this celestial anthem of truth was composed. Of the Macedonian Christians Paul wrote, “. . .in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (a Corinthians 8:2).
If we would find genuine happiness, we must begin where Jesus began. If we would have meaningful lives, we must live by the Beatitudes.
This second Beatitude, “Happy are they that mourn,” (Matthew 5:4) at first seems paradoxical. Do crying and joy go together? How can we possibly be happy while we are in the throes of mourning? How can one extract the perfume of gladness from the gall of sorrow?
But rest assured that there is deep and hidden significance here, for remember, Jesus was speaking to all people of all beliefs and of all ages and was revealing to them the secret of happiness.
The Shallowness of Our Lives
This present age is definitely not an age of mourning. Instead, people deliberately turn away from anything unpleasant, determined to fill their lives with those things which will divert their minds from anything serious. In their preoccupation with momentary pleasures and diversions, people settle for shallow and empty substitutes for reality. Millions give more thought to what programs they will watch tonight on TNT or what videotape they will rent for the weekend than they do to the things of eternity.
This century could well go down in history not so much as a century of progress but as “the century of superficiality.” The popular exclamation “So what!” aptly describes the attitude of many toward life. Many think that so long as we have sleek automobiles to ride in, TV and movies to entertain us, luxurious homes to live in, and a million gadgets to serve us, what happens to our souls does not matter. “So what! Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” The apostles of mirth therefore put on their grimacing masks, turn the volume up on their TVs or press down the accelerators on their sports cars, and plunge into their superficial living.
But superficial living will never help us stand against the pressures and problems of life. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told the story of two men. One decided to build his house on sand; it would, after all, have been easy to do. The other built his house on rock, although that would have involved more work. Outwardly both houses looked the same. But when the storms and floods came the house built on sand was destroyed. Only the house built on rock withstood the pressures of the flood. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). Only when our lives are grounded in the eternal truth of God’s Word will they be able to withstand the storms of life. A superficial life which neglects God can never give us a firm foundation for true happiness.
The following comment appeared in an issue of the London Times: “The grace of final perseverance is that quality of patience that is always equal to the pressure of the passing moment, because it is rooted in the Eternal over which the passing moment has no power.”
Beverly Sills, the former opera star and now a producer, has learned some lessons in adversity. Her first child was born almost totally deaf. The little girl was destined never to hear her mother’s beautiful voice lifted in song. Her second child, a son, was born mentally retarded.
So great was the sorrow in Mrs. Sills’ life that she took off a year from her demanding profession to work with her daughter and son, trying to make peace with the difficult circumstances. Later, when she was asked how she came to terms with the situation she answered, “The first question you ask is, Why me? Then it changes to Why them? It makes a complete difference in your attitude.” Her attitude is the opposite of superficiality.
Now, I am not gunning for TV addicts or movie buffs in particular, but I do strongly contend that life is more than “skin-deep.” Look at your popular comedians! Underneath the feigned smirks and the pretended smiles are the furrows and lines of seriousness and sobriety. Although it is their business to make you laugh, they are well aware that life is a solemn business.
Recently a dear friend of ours was told she had cancer “It is amazing,” she said to us, “how one day you can be going along smoothly and the next day one little word from the doctor’s lips--—‘cancer’---—radically changes everything. Then you know as you never have before that life is serious, and eternity is only a heartbeat away. Suddenly many of the things that seemed so important just a day ago are no longer very important.”
Jesus did not mean “Blessed are the morose, the miserable, or the sullen.” The Pharisees made a masquerade of religion, rubbed ashes on their faces to appear religious, but He strongly rebuked them for that. “Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance,” He said (Matthew 6:16).
Who was it that said, “Some people’s religion is like a man with a headache--—he can’t afford to give up his head, but it hurts him to keep it”?
The Meaning of Mourning
What did Jesus mean when He said: “Happy are they that mourn”? Certainly He did not mean to imply that a special blessing is promised to “crybabies,” “weeping Willies,” or the emotionally upset. This verse was not intended to be a comfort for abnormal psychopathic cases, which have somehow become mentally warped and take a morbid view of life. No, it was addressed to normal, average people for the purpose of showing them how to live happier, fuller, richer lives.
Let us begin with the word mourning itself. It means “to feel deep sorrow, to show great concern, or to deplore some existing wrong.” It implies that if we are to live life on the higher plane then we are to be sensitive, sympathetic, tenderhearted, and alert to the needs of others and the world.
Perhaps we can see its meaning more clearly by thinking about its opposite. What is the opposite of mourning? Some might say it would be joy--—and that is correct to a certain degree. But more than that, the opposite of mourning is insensitivity, lack of caring, unconcern, callousness, indifference. When I mourn it is because my heart has been touched by the suffering and heartache of others—--or even by my own heartache. When I do not care and am indifferent, then I do not mourn. The person who mourns is a person with a tender and sensitive heart.
Kinds of Mourning
Let’s list just six kinds of mourning which I believe were implied in this most significant saying of our Lord. The word here employed by Jesus covers such a wide range of attitudes that five shades of meaning are implied. We should ponder each one of them prayerfully.
First, there is the mourning of inadequacy. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned not in self-pity but for a wayward, lost world, said: “0 LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
Now, before I can become strong, I must first realize that I am weak. Before I can become wise, I must first realize that I am foolish. Before I can receive power, I must first confess that I am powerless. I must lament my sins before I can rejoice in a Savior. Mourning, in God’s sequence, always comes before exultation. Blessed are those who mourn their unworthiness, their helplessness, and their inadequacy.
Isaiah, the mighty prophet of God, knew by experience that one must bow the knee in mourning before one can lift the voice in jubilation. When his sin appeared ugly and venomous in the bright light of God’s holiness, he said: “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips. . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
We cannot be satisfied with our goodness after beholding the holiness of God. But our mourning over our unworthiness and sinfulness should be of short duration, for God has said: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
Isaiah had to experience the mourning of inadequacy before he could realize the joy of forgiveness. If I have no sense of sorrow for sin, how can I know the need of repentance?
In God’s economy, a person must go down into the valley of grief before he or she can scale the heights of spiritual glory. One must become tired and weary of living without Christ before he or she can seek and find His fellowship. One must come to the end of “self” before one can really begin to live.
The mourning of inadequacy is a weeping that catches the attention of God. The Bible says: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
We have received hundreds of letters from people who tried desperately to “get hold of themselves,” who in their own strength tried to shake off their habits, their sins, and their nasty dispositions--—but all in vain. Finally in desperation they came to Christ, and in Him they found strength to be more than conquerors.
Experience reveals that we are inadequate. History proves that we are inadequate. The Bible declares that a person is inadequate to save himself. Christ’s coming to the world proves the inadequacy of the race.
The happiest day of my life was the day I realized that my own ability, my own goodness, and my own morality were insufficient in the sight of God and I publicly and openly acknowledged my need of Christ. I am not exaggerating when I say that my mourning was turned to joy and my sighing into singing.
Happy are they who mourn for the inadequacy of self, for they shall be comforted with the sufficiency of Cod.
The Mourning of Repentance
Another kind of mourning is the mourning of repentance. Following the consciousness that we are inadequate comes the awareness of the reason for our insufficiency--—sin. As individuals we have no control over the fact of sin in the universe, but as creatures of choice we are responsible for its presence in our lives. Because “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all need to mourn the fact of sin in their lives.
One technique of modern psychoanalysis is the association of present conflicts with past experiences. Sometimes when patients of psychiatry confess to past sins, they experience a certain release from their feelings of guilt. But since psychiatry is a science of the mind, it can do nothing for the soul. Only Christ is the Physician of the soul.
God has said: “Turn ye even to me with all your heart. . . with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).
The mourning of repentance is not the weeping of self-pity; it is not regret over material losses nor remorse that our sins have been found out. It is entirely possible to be deeply sorry because of the devastation which sin has wrought in our lives--—and yet not repent. I have had people pour out their hearts to me with tears, because their sins have been discovered and they are in serious trouble. But true repentance is more than being sorry for our sins and regretting the way we have allowed sin to shatter our lives. True repentance is a turning from sin--—a conscious, deliberate decision to leave sin behind--—and a conscious turning to God with a commitment to follow His will for our lives. It is a change of direction, an alteration of attitudes, and a yielding of the will. Humanly speaking, it is our small part in the plan of salvation--—although even the strength to repent comes from God. But even so, the act of repentance does not win us any merit or make us worthy to be saved--—it only conditions our hearts for the grace of God.
The Bible says: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Our part is repenting. God will do the converting, the transforming, and the forgiving.
It will not be easy to bend our warped, stubborn wills; but once we do, it will be as though a misplaced vertebra has snapped back into place. Instead of the stress and tension of a life out of harmony with God will come the serenity of reconciliation. Our nerves will sense that our minds and hearts are relaxed, and they will send this happy news over their network to every fiber of our bodies: “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Just as pain precedes birth, mourning over sin comes before spiritual rebirth. I do not mean to imply that in everyone’s experience there will be loud, violent weeping over the sin in one’s life--—sorrow for sin may come quietly, with little or no emotion. But there will be a sincere sorrow for the evils of one’s life and a disposition to turn to God for help and salvation. The Bible says: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The Mourning of Love
There is yet another aspect of this Beatitude, “Happy are they that mourn.” There is, third, the mourning of love.
In many of the older cars the fuel gauge used to contain a red liquid, and its level in the gauge corresponded to the level of fuel in the tank. As the liquid was in the gauge, so it was in the tank.
If I would know the measure of my love for God, I must simply observe my love for people around me. My compassion for others is an accurate gauge of my devotion to God.
The Bible puts it this way: “Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. . . . And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:7, 21).
Some time ago, with some friends, I went through a museum in San Francisco. Among other things, we saw a collection of instruments of torture which were employed by religious people to force other people to believe as they did. History is largely the record of man’s inhumanity to man.
This age in which we live could hardly be described as one in which people are honestly sensitive to the needs of others. We have developed a veneer of sophistication—--but also cynicism and hardness. Our popular music talks constantly about love, and yet divorce rates skyrocket, child abuse is rampant, and our world is shaken by wars, violence, and terrorism. Major newsmagazines feature cover stories on “The ‘Me’ Generation.” This generation, it seems, would rather see a prizefight than fight for a prize. Not only has the song “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying” disappeared from most of our songbooks, its theme has disappeared from our hearts, except for physical famine, victims of oppressive regimes, and tidal waves. And these are terribly important. It is just that the spiritually perishing need to hear the gospel.
Several years ago we were visiting India. While we were there a terrible tidal wave hit a fifty-mile section of the coast, killing tens of thousands of people and completely destroying hundreds of villages and towns. Indian officials graciously provided a helicopter and accompanied us to the area, and we were among the first to view the devastation. I will never forget the terrible destruction and the stench of death--—as if a thousand atom bombs had gone off at the same time. And yet this terrible disaster rated only a few inches in many American newspapers and only a minute or so on the evening news.
Abraham Lincoln once said, characteristically: “I am sorry for the man who can’t feel the whip when it is laid on the other man’s back.”
Much of the world is callous and indifferent toward mankind’s poverty and distress. This is due largely to the fact that for many people there has never been a rebirth. The love of God has never been shed abroad in their hearts.
Many people speak of the social gospel as though it were separate and apart from the redemptive gospel. The truth is: There is only one gospel. Divine love, like a reflected sunbeam, shines down before it radiates out. Unless our hearts are conditioned by the Holy Spirit to receive and reflect the warmth of God’s compassion, we cannot love our fellow- men as we ought.
Jesus wept tears of compassion at the graveside of a friend. He mourned over Jerusalem because as a city it had lost its appreciation of the things of the spirit. His great heart was sensitive to the needs of others.
To emphasize the importance of people’s love for each other, He revised an old commandment to make it read: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. . . and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27).
St. Francis of Assisi had discovered the secret of happiness when he prayed:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life!
This generation is rough and tough. I heard a little boy boasting one day about how tough he was. He said, “On the street I live on, the farther out you go the tougher they get, and I live in the last house.”
Tears shed for self are tears of weakness, but tears of love shed for others are a sign of strength. I am not as sensitive as I ought to be until I am able to “weep o’er the erring one and lift up the fallen.” And until I have learned the value of compassionately sharing others’ sorrow, distress, and misfortune, I cannot know real happiness.
The Mourning of Soul Travail
Another kind of mourning which brings comfort is, fourth, the mourning of soul travail.
This may seem cryptic, but it represents a very real and a profitable kind of mourning. The Bible says: ‘As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
We don’t use this phrase “soul travail” very often, not as much as our spiritual forefathers a generation or so ago. Travail means “toil, painful effort, labor.” “Travail of soul” therefore means spiritual toil--—not necessarily outward labor which others will see, but that which takes place within the secret recesses of our souls. It refers to the continual flow of prayer which rises out of the Christian heart for a world which is spiritually unborn. And don’t be under any illusions: This kind of soul travail is difficult and costly, because we are involved in spiritual warfare against Satan, the Enemy of Souls. “Pray without ceasing,” the Bible says (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
God has worked in a miraculous way in our crusades down through the years. Thousands of men and women have made their decisions for Christ. Their coming was not the result of one man’s work or the efforts of a group of men--—it was the product of much prayer by many people around the world. God has said: “If my people ... pray.. . then will I hear from heaven” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Before three thousand people were brought into the Church on the day of Pentecost, the disciples had spent fifty days in prayer, fasting, and spiritual travail.
John Knox, with an all-consuming soul-concern for his country prayed: “Give me Scotland, or I die!” His earnest travail was rewarded with a spiritual rebirth in his land. This is what is termed “praying in the Spirit.” It is the manifestation of a deep spiritual concern for others, and it is instilled by the Spirit of God.
The Bible says: “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
This kind of prayer can span oceans, cross burning deserts, leap over mountains, and penetrate jungles to carry the healing, helping power of the gospel to the objects of our prayer.
This kind of mourning, this quality of concern, is produced by the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives. That “the Spirit itself maketh intercession” indicates that it is actually God pleading, praying, and mourning through us. Thus we become co-laborers with God, actual partners with Him: Our lives are lifted from the low plane of selfishness to the high plane of creativeness with God.
John Knox travailed in prayer, and the Church in Scotland expanded into new life. John Wesley travailed in prayer, and the Methodist movement was born. Martin Luther travailed, and the Reformation was underway.
God desires that we Christians be concerned and burdened for a lost world. If we pray this kind of prayer, an era of peace may come to the world and hordes of wickedness may be turned back. ‘As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
The Mourning of Suffering and Bereavement
Another kind of mourning we shall deal with is, fifth, the mourning of bereavement.
Nowhere has God promised anyone, even His children, immunity from sorrow, suffering, and pain. This world is a “vale of tears,” and disappointment and heartache are as inevitable as clouds and shadows. Suffering is often the crucible in which our faith is tested. Those who successfully come through the “furnace of affliction” are the ones who emerge “like gold tried in the fire.”
The Bible teaches unmistakably that we can triumph over bereavement. The psalmist said: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5).
Self-pity can bring no enduring comfort. The fact is, it will only add to our misery. And unremitting grief will give us little consolation in itself, for grief begets grief. Ceaseless grieving will only magnify our sorrow. We should not peddle our sorrows and bewail our bad fortune--—that will only depress others. Sorrow, or mourning, when it is borne in a Christian way, contains a built-in comfort. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted”
There is comfort in mourning because we know that Christ is with us. He has said: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Suffering is endurable if we do not have to bear it alone; and the more compassionate the Presence, the less acute the pain.
How often when a child have you stubbed your toe, bruised a leg, or cut a hand, and, running to the arms of your mother, you there sobbed out your pain? Lovingly caressing you and tenderly kissing the hurt, she imparted the magic of healing; and you went your way half healed and wholly comforted. Love and compassion contain a stronger balm than all the salves and ointments made by man.
Yes, when a loved one dies it is natural for us to feel a sense of loss and even a deep loneliness. That will not necessarily vanish overnight. But even when we feel the pain of bereavement most intensely, we can also know the gracious and loving presence of Christ most closely. Christ--—who suffered alone on the cross, and endured death and hell alone for our salvation--—knows what it is to suffer and be lonely. And because He knows, He is able to comfort us by His Presence. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:3—4).
So, in our lives, there can be a blessedness in the midst of mourning. From suffering and bereavement God can bring into our lives new measures of His strength and love.
Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled ... believe . . in me” (John 14:1). When faith is strong, troubles become trifles.
There is also comfort in mourning because in the midst of mourning God gives a song. God says in Job 30:9: “I am their song.” In Job 35:10 Elihu asks, “Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?” His presence in our lives changes our mourning into song, and that song is a song of comfort. Sometimes it must be night to have that song!
This kind of comfort is the kind which enabled a devout Englishman to look at a deep, dark hole in the ground where his home stood before the bombing and say “I always did want a basement, I did. Now I can jolly well build another house like I always wanted.”
This kind of comfort is the kind which enabled a young minister’s wife in a church near us to teach her Sunday school class of girls on the very day of her husband’s funeral. Her mourning was not the kind which had no hope--—it was a mourning of faith in the goodness and wisdom of God; it believed that our Heavenly Father makes no mistakes.
In addition, there can be comfort in mourning because God can use our sufferings to teach us and make us better people. Often it takes suffering to make us realize the brevity of life, and the importance of living for Christ. Often God uses suffering to accomplish things in our lives that would otherwise never be achieved.
The Bible puts it succinctly: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2—4, RSV). Some of the godliest people I have ever known were men and women who had been called upon to endure great suffering--—perhaps even being invalids for many years. Many people would have grown bitter and resentful if they had faced such circumstances--—and yet because they knew Christ and walked in the joy of His presence every day, God had blessed them and turned them into people who reflected Christ. Often I have gone into a sickroom or hospital room to encourage someone--—and have left feeling I was the one who had been encouraged and helped, because God had used their trials to make them more like Christ.
Before the power of the atom was discovered, science had to devise a way to “smash” the atom. The secret of the atom’s immeasurable and limitless power was in its being crushed.
Dr. Edward Judson, at the dedication of the Judson Memorial Church in New York City said, “Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered; if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”
Most of all, there is comfort in mourning because we know that this life is not all, but we have the hope of heaven. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But he knew that our hope was not just in this life, but in heaven. Our hope is in the resurrected Christ, who has opened the door to eternal life for all who put their trust in Him. “0 death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?. . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).
I will never forget the last few months of my mother’s life, just before she went to be with the Lord. During those months she grew weaker and weaker physically--—but her joy and excitement about heaven grew stronger and stronger! Whenever anyone went to visit her they came away marveling at her radiance and sense of expectancy. Yes, when she died there were tears--—but in the midst of them, those of us who loved her had a deep sense of joy and comfort because we knew she was with the Lord. “Happy are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
This was the apostle Paul’s hope--—a hope based squarely on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed. . . . Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (z Corinthians 4:8, 16—18). Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25—26).
Do you have that hope in your heart? Do you know that if you were to die tonight you would go to heaven to be with Christ forever? You can, if you will trust Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. Jesus promised, “I go to prepare a place for you. . . that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2—3).
“Blessed (happy) are they that mourn.” They are happy because they know that their aim, their distress, and their privation are the travail of a new creation, the birth pangs of a better world. They are happy because they are aware that the Master Artist--—God--—is employing both light and shadow to produce a masterpiece worthy of divine artistry. They are also made to glory in their infirmities, to smile through their tears, and to sing in the midst of their sorrow because they realize that in God’s economy, “if we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
The Mourning of Blank Despair
Last, there is the mourning of blank despair. “I could not think about my own death,” says one young AIDS victim. “I wanted to live forever.”
The tragedy of AIDS is obvious. But as C. S. Lewis said of war, “War does not increase death. Death is total in every generation.” So it could be said of AIDS; it does not increase death; death is total in every generation.
However, in this present grim situation, a merciful God has given people time. A short time perhaps, torn with frustration, anger, bitterness and fear--—but still time. Time to think of God, His love for a world gone wrong, the sending of His Son to bear in His own body on the cross, all the sins of mankind. Time to come to Him in childlike repentance and to discover the love of Jesus, His transforming power, and the life everlasting that He promises and has gone to prepare for us. (27-41)
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