Luke 11:27-28 (NIV) As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
The crowds recognized that Jesus’ words were true and right, even though the Pharisees did not. The crowd recognized that Jesus’ power came from God, because they saw what He was doing without bias, even though the Pharisees saw everything that He did through lenses tinted by their biases against Him.
One of the women in the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” She was not being impious in the least, nor was she attempting to instill worship of Mary, Jesus’ mother. She was simply stating that Jesus was such an amazing and exceptional person that His mother was blessed to have a son like Him, and even implying that a woman would have to be especially blessed by God to bear a son like Him.
This does not go against Scripture at all. In fact, Gabriel twice told Mary that she was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28, 30), Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, twice pronounce her especially blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 45), and Mary herself understood that she was especially blessed to be called upon to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:48).
Jesus could have taken this opportunity to double down on all of this and affirm the unique blessedness of His mother. But He didn’t. Instead, He turned the focus away from all of that, and toward the key to kingdom life: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, even though Mary had been blessed indeed to be used as a vessel for the birth of Jesus, God’s focus was forward, to the establishment and growth of His kingdom. The blessed ones were not those who had been selected in the past, but those who elected to live in the kingdom in the future.
The people of God’s kingdom, those who are blessed now, are those who both hear God’s word, and who obey it. Who not only know the righteous requirements of the law, but who obey them as well. This is the basis of James’ urging to not “merely listen to the word,” but to “do what it says.” (James 1:22)
In essence, God’s focus on blessedness is not on the saints and heroes of the faith in the past, but on the saints and heroes of the faith in the present. Those who obeyed in the past were blessed indeed. But there are great blessings reserved for those who live in His kingdom here and now.
Father, we do so often get caught up in elevating the so-called saints of the past without realizing that we are called to be saints today – bright lights in our sin-darkened world, beacons that lead the way for those lost and wandering in sin. Help us to live out that calling, not forgetting those who have gone before, but also not elevating them in our own minds above what You are able to do in and through us today. Amen.