July 7, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:27-28 (NRSV)
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
When someone shouted that Jesus’s mother was blessed because she bore and nursed him, Jesus responded by saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Of course, one of the people in Scripture who excelled at hearing and doing the word of God was Jesus’ own mother. So she was blessed. But by re-envisioning blessedness as he did, Jesus underscores that fact that all women and all men, regardless of whether they are parents or not, can be truly and fully blessed by God. If we want to be blessed, we need to hear and do God’s word.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Have you ever been in a tense or heavy conversation, only to have someone interrupt in order to lighten the mood? Sometimes that can be a gift. Sometimes it can be an unfortunate distraction.
In Luke 11, Jesus had been engaged in a conversation both tense and heavy. First, his opponents accused him of acting with satanic power. Then, Jesus explained that a person from whom a demon has been cast out might very well end up worse off if that demon returns with seven of its demonic friends.
At this point, a woman in the crowd interrupted Jesus by shouting something she believed to be positive. It seems likely that she was trying to steer the conversation away from talk about Satan and demons. So she raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27). It’s likely that this saying or something like it was a popular way of praising both a mother and a mother’s child. Today, we might yell, “Jesus, you’re really great. And so is your mom!”
Jesus didn’t ignore the woman who interrupted him. But he didn’t give a hearty “Amen” either. He didn’t say, “Yeah, my mom is pretty special.” Rather, he took the idea of someone being blessed and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28). Now, when we first read this, we may be taken aback. Why didn’t Jesus affirm the blessedness of his own mother? After all, Mary’s distinctive blessedness had already been affirmed by her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:42, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Couldn’t Jesus have simply said, “Amen, sister!” and left it at that, with his mother deservedly affirmed?
When we reflect a bit more on Jesus’s response, however, we realize that he wasn’t disrespecting his mother. Rather, he was helping his listeners re-envision the character of her blessedness. The fact that she gave birth to and nursed Jesus wasn’t irrelevant. But her true blessedness lay in the fact that Mary was one who heard the word of God and obeyed it. Remember what happened when she heard the uniquely disruptive news that she, though a virgin, would give birth to the messiah. Mary responded by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). There it is; plain as day. Mary heard the word of God from the angel and obeyed it. For this reason, she was truly blessed.
Jesus’s notion of true blessedness didn’t disparage his mother or the physical actions associated with bearing children. But he did reveal a different vision of blessedness than that which was common in his day. Bearing and raising children was the most important thing a woman in first-century Jewish culture could do with her life. Honoring motherhood in this way was often fine. But there was a downside, in that it left women who for whatever reason did not have children mired in shame. They were failures as women. Their childlessness showed that they were not blessed, probably because of some fault of their own. But Jesus revealed that blessedness was something every woman – and every man, for that matter – could experience. It was a matter of hearing and doing the word of God.
Though our culture is much more affirming than the culture of Jesus of a variety of honorable roles for women in addition to motherhood, in many settings women can still feel unaffirmed, undervalued, and “unblessed” if they don’t have children. As a pastor, I have listened many times to the pain of women (and men) who have not been able to have children. Not only do they deal with deep sadness, but also with a kind of shunning from others. This can be even more pronounced among women who are single in addition to childless. So, the teaching of Jesus on true blessedness can be most affirming to those who sometimes feel unaffirmed.
Moreover, Jesus’s notion of true blessedness encourages us to make sure our values and practices are consistent with the values and practices of Jesus when it comes to matters of blessedness, parenthood, and so forth. It’s right to affirm the value of bearing and raising children, and to honor those who do this. There’s plenty of biblical precedent for this. But we must make sure that we don’t make so much of marriage and parenting that we implicitly devalue those who are hearing and doing the word of God even though they aren’t married or parents.
For all of us, the good news in Luke 11:28 is that we can be truly blessed. We can choose this day to hear the word of God and obey it. In fact, by reading this devotion, beginning with the biblical text, you’ve already heard the word of God. Now you have the chance to put it into practice. As you do, you will be truly blessed.
In the culture (or cultures) in which you live, how important is parenthood? Do people without children feel fully accepted and respected? Or do they sometimes feel as if they are second-class citizens?
When you think of how you are blessed, what comes to mind?
In what ways are you able to affirm women and men who heard and do the word of God?
How important is it to you – really – to hear and do God’s word?
Today (or tomorrow if you’re reading this in the evening) do something intentionally in obedience to God’s word.
Lord Jesus, thank you for reframing what true blessedness is all about. Yes, giving birth and rearing children matters and is a kind of blessedness. But you taught that blessing is most of all a matter of hearing and doing the word of God.
I thank you for this teaching because, among other things, it means I can be blessed this very day. I can choose to hear your word and do it. I can learn what Scripture teaches and put it into practice, beginning right now. That’s good news.
Lord, to whatever extent our Christian communities might make people without children feel less important or less valued, help us to change our ways in response to your word. Though we are right to honor parents, may we never suggest in word or deed that those who are unable to be parents are somehow less honorable, less blessed. May we offer to all the promise of true blessedness as we invite one another to hear and do your word. 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 High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Whether or Not You Feel Like It
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
What a great devotion today! It reminded me of my friend and colleague. I’m finishing reading A FLAMING FIRE, by Jinny Larson – a fellow Minnesotan and missionary w/ Wycliffe of over 40 years. I was/am blessed to have serve with this amazing single woman who has translated God’s Word into Ivatan (No. Philippines), Yami (Orchid Island, Taiwan) and served as a translation consultant for 10 years in China. This single woman is an example of thousands of single women who have been obedient to God’s word bringing the Gospel to unknown marginalized peoples around the world in word and deed without expecting any accolades from the world from which they came and to which they have given their lives. They put our best known evangelists and pastors in their shadows with the challenges they have faced and the blessings they have brought to the very ends of the earth. I am so honored and blessed to have been part of Jinny’s life and to know her and her work up close and personally.