Not who you are but what you do – Saturday, 27th week in ordinary time – Luke 11:27-28
This text is similar to Matthew 12:48-50 in which Jesus is teaching in a crowded packed home and someone tells Jesus that his mother and brothers are standing outside waiting to talk to him. Jesus replies, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He points to the disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
What do we make of Jesus’ reaction here in the Gospel of Luke? It show Jesus speaking sternly. He risks being blunt with the woman in the crowd and dismissive of his mother. Looking at the text in context this woman seems to have expressed the popular feeling. The crowds who had seen the great miracles and heard the Master’s wise and skilful reply were evidently impressed with the wisdom as with the power of this famous Rabbi.
The woman in the crowd is blown away with who Jesus is and got carried away by a moment of emotion and she shouts out a blessing to what she assumes must be a very special mother. But to Jesus there is something within those words that needs to be addressed so Jesus pulled her back to reality.
Luke’s Gospel is full of blessings, especially in the infancy narrative of the first two chapters. All kinds of people; Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, Anna – know themselves to be blessed on account of a child to be born.
In this text Jesus responds unexpectedly, not downgrading Mary, but pointing to the source of her blessedness, as her cousin Elizabeth did at the Visitation (Luke 1:42) In that sense he is not denying the blessedness of his mother but making a bigger point; “blessed rather” are the hearers and keepers of God’s word.
The meaning of the Greek term “rather” (menoun) is unclear. It appears four times in the New Testament but here it is used as a corrective; “yes, but rather.” Jesus agrees with the woman’s blessing identifying his mother as an example of one who hears God’s word and obeys it, but there is also a greater blessing available to those who believe.
So, if one was to paraphrase what Jesus said it would read as; ‘What you have said is true as far as it goes but Mary’s blessedness does not consist simply in her relationship with me, but in the fact that she heard the word of God and kept it, which is where true blessedness lies.’ The moment of emotion is a fine thing; but the greatest thing is a life of obedience in the routine things of everyday. No amount of fine feeling can take the place of faithful doing. A mother deserves her honour but the more ultimate blessing comes not with mere association but with alignment, with responsiveness.
What is our takeaway?
In today’s culture we often hear the terms ‘Follow’ and ‘Like’ mentioned. Could the powerful value of social media sometimes cause us to miss the point? Can we be caught in positive adulation rather than positive action? People call those things they don’t understand as blessed but would rather be a watcher but not a participator. Jesus confronts what is actually in the heart of people.
Jesus is confronting the sentimental religious nature that gives the appearance of praise but is really just placating. Jesus saw many who come as fans more than as followers. A fan is defined as an enthusiastic admirer. A fan can cheer the team but he never joins the game. He can wear the T-shirt and have thorough knowledge of the game and the players involved. He can feel like he is part of the game but never actually joins the team. In fact, one of the symptoms of a being a fan is that you think you are a follower. A fans commitment is more about cheering than changing. More about applauding than aligning.