Truth Prompted by an Outspoken Woman

January 2, 2012

As [Jesus] said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28 ESV)

Here is another of those obscure interactions between Jesus and a woman that is easily overlooked but valuable nonetheless. Earlier in Luke 11, Jesus had freed a man from his demon, which amazed the gathered crowd. Then he had faced down the skeptics who said his power came from Beelzebul (the “prince of demons”). 

Obviously impressed by Jesus’ discourse, a woman in the crowd yells out her opinion, “Wow, I bet your mom is really happy to have you for a son! Even her body parts that nurtured your life are blessed.” 

Now, this compliment may not go over well in 21st-centuryAmerica, but it was appropriate and well meant for its time. Her culture highly valued women for their reproductive capabilities. Women who didn’t bear children were labeled “barren,” and they often felt cursed. When wombs and breasts functioned well, it was normal to bless them. 

What’s more surprising is that this woman spoke up at all. She must have been so tickled with what Jesus was saying (or to whom he was saying it) that she was bursting at the seams and forgot herself. 

Jesus didn’t comment on the fact that she spoke, but we can tell from his response that her statement reflected an incomplete understanding of some important truth. Did he then rebuke her for it? A few Bible commentators have thought so, but reviewing multiple translations of Jesus’ statement helps us with a clearer picture of his tone: 

– “Blessed rather are those…” (New International Version)
– “On the contrary, blessed are…” (New American Standard Bible)
– “More than that, blessed are…” (New King James Version)
– “But even more blessed…” (New Living Translation)
– “Yea rather, blessed are…” (King James Version, original)

I don’t read rebuke into this response at all. I am surely biased by my knowledge of Jesus’ other interactions with women, but I imagine him glancing down quickly, maybe a bit embarrassed at the passion of her outburst, then looking up with a smile and responding, “Yes, but even more happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, practicing what Jesus said brings a greater blessing even than giving birth to the Messiah. Blessing is not limited to his natural mother. Everyone has access to the blessing—reproductive capability is irrelevant. 

One more thing before we leave this interaction. A bit earlier in Luke, while Jesus was again teaching, his mother and brothers showed up but couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. When Jesus was given this message, he replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:20-22).

Sound familiar? I suspect Luke included both of these interactions in his Gospel for a specific purpose. Scholars believe Luke to have been a Gentile, writing about Jesus for a primarily Gentile audience. This audience probably knew, though, that the Jews at the time were clannish and all about family. It was important for Luke’s readers to know that Jesus was very clear on this point: The bonds of spirit are greater than the bonds of blood. 

Although in their time and place, it seemed the best a woman could do was to bear good children, Jesus pointed them beyond the purely physical realm. In the kingdom of God anyone who practices the teachings of Jesus is family. No one is more blessed than those who obey, not even a woman with a good womb.

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