And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. Luke 11:27-28
In his sermon for Ash Wednesday: Fr. Sean said that Lent is the spring season of our liturgical life; and that we, by our prayers, fasting and abstinence, strengthen the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love, given us by God in our baptism. In his sermon for Lent I: Fr. Gene reminded us that the devil attacks us in the lusts of our flesh and through our culture of distraction. God calls us to be attentive and alert to seek the fellowship of other believers and make good use of the means of grace He provides the Church. In his sermon for Lent II: Fr. Mark encouraged us to reject complacency and embrace perseverance in our devotion to Jesus and our lives together in Holy Mother Church. “What ever our present state of holiness happens to be, we urgently need to pursue Jesus.”
Our passage is part of a greater narrative in St Luke’s Gospel. Chapters 9:51 through 19:27 is about Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with his disciples is on his way to Jerusalem. He has sent out the seventy, two by two. They have been preaching the Kingdom of God, healing diseases and casting out evil spirits in His name. More people seek him out for healing and to hear his teaching. Along the way (Lk 11:1ff) Jesus and his disciples stopped at a certain place where He drew apart to pray. Later, one of the disciples asked him, “Teach us how to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.”
After showing them how to prayer, He continues to teach them about prayer using parables. With no indication of being in a different place, we read beginning in Luke 11:14, “he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.” The word “wondered” is something of an under statement. All who saw it were amazed! What he did was explosive. The air was filled with the energy of his holiness and then with the itchy evil of opposition which rose up against Him. We read in Luke 11:15, “But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.”
There was no logic to their accusation. As Jesus said, “How can a kingdom divided against itself stand?” Exorcism was a familiar ministry in Jesus’ day. Normally, Jewish exorcists used special coins, medallions and incantations to cast out evil spirits. Jesus declared that their sons who practice exorcism bear witness against them and their accusations. Jesus had no need for such things. He commanded the demon to leave the man and it had no choice but to obey Him. In the midst of this opposition Jesus went on to remind them of some important facts about evil spirits and exorcism. He warned them saying, it is not enough be be set free from an evil spirit. The one who has been cleansed of evil must then fill the empty place with love and obedience to God. Those opposed to Jesus remained opposed and those were amazed were still amazed and wondered at what they witnessed. Everyone continued to talk and argue, some even demanding signs from heaven. It could not have been quiet in that place. I believe it was a rowdy crowd of competing voices.
Then above all that clamor the voice of a woman arose declaring, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.”
Think everyone quieted down after hearing her? I do.
What exactly was she saying? Your mother who bore and nurtured you is blessed.
She was moved deeply by Jesus. Her outburst was filled with love and respect. She saw something wonderful in Him and from her perspective his mother had to have had something to do with it. She had no knowledge of Jesus’ history or his family of origin what so what she said about his mother was absolutely true and a wonder in and of itself. There is no possible way this woman had knowledge of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Nazareth where he announced God’ plan for her life. She would bear a son through the power and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and that born of her would be called Son of the Most Highest. Nor could this woman have known about Mary’s visit to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who herself was six months pregnant. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting Elizabeth declared, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Nor could she have known that Mary’s espoused, Joseph, was told in a dream, (Mt1:18ff) “fear not to take to take unto the Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Joseph devoted the remainder of his life to protect and care for his wife, Mary, and her Son, Jesus. All these were among the many acts of God that Mary kept and pondered in her heart.
How did Jesus respond to this woman’s blessing upon His mother, Mary? What exactly did Jesus say? In the text St. Luke uses an obscure classical Greek compound particle, “men-on.” The best translation in this case would be “yes, rather. Not all contemporary English translations translate this word correctly. I might digress here for a moment. It is a fact that our modern American evangelical Christian culture is focused on the individual rather than the corporate nature of the Church and a number of contemporary translations emphasis on faith alone, not to mention evangelical theology be very uncomfortable with anything to do with Jesus’ mother beyond his nativity. For example the NIV translation is incorrect the particular case of Luke 11:28. This obscure classical greek compound particle is an affirmative particle. The the NIV translates it as, “Blessed rather are those.” In other words, according to the NIV Jesus is dismissing His mother as though she is somehow irrelevant. And there is no way Jesus would consider his mother irrelevant especially considering her own response to hearing God’s word.
Let me paraphrase what Jesus said: Indeed that is so! Rather there is more to my mother’s blessedness than the biology of motherhood. Her true blessedness was the result of hearing and believing the Word of God and then guarding, keeping, doing, obeying that Word above all other things. There could be no better example of hearing and obeying.
Let me point out one more issue of the Greek in our passage. Again most contemporary English Bibles translate that the Greek, “phulassontes” as “obey.” The Greek word does bear the sense of obedience but it literally means “to guard.” In other words, we are to cherish and love the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth. We, like Mary and all the Saints live in a state of blessedness. We, who are many, have been made one body in Baptism, nourished and matured through receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood. By the virtue of God’s grace we can hear, we can cherish and love all that He commands in His Holy Scriptures.
May we continue to love and cherish Jesus and one another in our Lenten fasting, abstinence and prayers.
And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.