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Molly CahillOctober 13, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed."
He replied, "Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Lk 11:27-28)

Normally, when I write these reflections, I open by including just a line from the readings, something particularly salient that will keep us focused and give us something short and sweet to hold onto for the day. Out of a bigger story, I try to pull just one small moment that will stick with readers who need it. But above is today’s entire Gospel reading. That’s it. No more, no less. And because it’s short, it’s puzzling.

I’ll admit, upon my first reading, I did not love this move from Jesus. It almost sounded like a woman came to him and praised another woman, his mother in fact, for the physical labor and love that went into birthing and rearing him… and then Jesus countered her with something completely unrelated. The bare-bones style of Luke’s telling doesn’t breathe too much life into Jesus; when we don’t know for sure what his facial expression or the tone of his voice or the timing of his response were like, we fill in the gaps for ourselves. And the gaps that I filled in made Jesus seem kind of short with his interlocutor, even dismissive of her. The picture was less than flattering.

What’s behind his remark? Is he just disregarding the comment? Is he unimpressed with the notion that women are blessed thanks to the hard work of childbirth and nursing? Or, if we’re getting into the particulars, is he saying that Mary, of all people, is not blessed?

Of course, that can’t be it.

We are not blessed and loved by God because we have taken one particular path.

There’s a reason that “blessed are you among women” is one of the most famous lines from Scripture and one of the world’s best-known prayers. And Jesus isn’t here to refute that. Actually, he’s here to deepen our understanding of it.

His words to the woman in the crowd are not a dismissal, but a redirection. Yes, Mary is blessed—but what’s the real reason why? “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” For all the beauty, connection and spirituality in Mary’s experience of carrying, birthing and nursing baby Jesus, the center of her story is something else: She heard God’s call and she responded. She ordered her life around that call, even though, when she first heard it, she couldn’t have known where it would take her.

The distinction is a message to all of us, and hopefully a liberating one. We are not blessed and loved by God because we have taken one particular path. We don’t have to be parents or have certain jobs or meet any specific worldly goals. But on our own individual life paths, we can hear the word of God and observe it; we can respond from right where we are.

More: Scripture

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