What does it mean to be blessed? Early on, the word was applied mostly to the Greek gods. Homer used it rarely about mankind, and then only when man had left this material world and had entered the spirit realm. After all, only the gods could attain true happiness; only their life could be said to be fortunate. By the time of Aristotle, it was being used more to refer to men. It was often applied to the wealthy. They could make life bend to their whims much easier than could the poor. And that speaks of fortunate, doesn’t it? Not to mention the clinging idea that if someone had a lot of money he must be favored by the gods. Which, left the poor not blessed or favored. Many looked at children as a blessing. If you had many children and on top of that good children, well then, the gods must like you, and you could therefore be described as blessed. For the Jewish people blessings came from Yahweh in the form, mostly, of land, health, and progeny – lots of strong, adding to the good of society, children. And again, the poor, sick, childless people, were deemed misfortunate – not at all favored by God. And it seems that we use the word in the same way today. I am blessed to have three healthy functioning adult children. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife. I am blessed with a house and two cars to transport us through the frigid North Dakota winter air in relative comfort. But when I say these things, it may sound as if someone who doesn’t have children – or healthy children, a spouse, a home, vehicles, etc., is not favored by God. Hmm! That sounds a bit elitist.
Luke 11:27-28 is a mere two verse and therefore might be overlooked. But this short passage, which belongs to a larger context, packs a punch. It came about as Jesus was talking about divided and empty houses, that some random woman in the crowd shouted out with a loud cry, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” The feeling of the text is that she could not contain herself; she could no longer be just part of the crowd listening to the message. She had something in her that would not be hushed. What was in her was a beatitude. Beatitudes were fairly common within both Jewish and Greek cultures at this time. And a common beatitude was to bless the parent of a person who was excelling. Well, that makes sense. And this woman, being a woman, thinks about Jesus’ mother. God must truly favor her to have given her such a son – a “battling against the evil strong man,” a “dismantling stinging accusations” son. For some, this cry represents a longing to have been so favored. Maybe. But what if she is just so overwhelmed with what an incredible person Jesus is, that she bursts out with a beatitude; and a fairly common beatitude at that?
Jesus responded with “Yes, but rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” The word translated “on the contrary” in the NASB can introduce a contradiction such as “no, rather,” or an affirmation like “yes, indeed,” or a modification such as “yes, but.” That Mary should be blessed among women has already been stated in 1:42 by Elizabeth and in 1:48 Mary herself sings out “generations will count me blessed.” Jesus’ words here, then, are not a rebuke. Mary was favored by God to have been chosen to be the mother of the Christ. Jesus is most likely agreeing with that blessing, but then modifying it: “Yes, my mother is favored, but how much more . . .” And this is similar to Luke 8:21 where Jesus said, “My mother and My brother are those who hear the word of God and do it.” What makes someone blessed, fortunate, favored by Yahweh? The person who listens to God’s message and then keeps, guards, observes it. There is no promise here about the situation. This could be a childless, poor, sick person with no hint of anything improving. A better situation is not evidence of God’s favor. Elitism has no place in the kingdom of God. And interestingly, this description also applies to Mary. She was blessed mostly because when she heard the message she said, “may it be done to your slave.” She heard and observed.
If you are serving the King, you are blessed. Period. Being single cannot lessen the blessing nor can being married increase it. The Greeks uttered beatitudes for finding a good spouse and for avoiding marriage all together. Being poor cannot make that blessing grungy nor can wealth dress it up. Children do not enhance nor diminish God’s favor. As a friend of mine always said when asked how he was doing, “Blessed nonetheless.” It is about hearing the word of God and observing it, treating it as a treasure to be guarded. Hear, obey and be blessed. Peace out. Walter