There are some bits of the bible that you trip over when you’re reading, thinking, “hmm… that’s a bit weird”. And then stumped you think, “oh well, better move on”. But if you sit with them a bit longer and exercise some patience, eventually some other things slot into place and a glimmer of insight appears.
One of this tripping points for me was this moment in Luke 11:27-28, where Jesus has been teaching the crowd and doing his miracles thing, when a woman cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”
Now that’s a weird heckle.
But if you put yourself in her first-century Middle Eastern shoes, it was her womb and her breasts that defined her identity and her value as a person in that society. If a woman happened to be infertile, she was useless to her husband, her family, and society as a whole. Even worse it was assumed that God must be withholding blessing from her for some justified reason.
Procreation was everything that was expected from her, and probably everything she expected from herself. And so when she shouts out to Jesus “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”, she’s framing her devotion to him, her sense of calling within those cultural expectations. It’s almost like she’s yelling out,
Blessed is the person who loves and follows God according to the cultural expectations of her time and place!
Jesus’ response to that is a gentle correction, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
He’s subtly rebuking that whole worldview that defined a woman by her procreative abilities. He’s saying, “Actually no, blessed is the person who loves and follows God regardless of the cultural expectations of her time and place”. Forget those cultural expectations about who you should be, the best thing for you to do is just follow God and let that shape your identity and calling.
Now the world I’m living in offers me infinitely more opportunity to express my discipleship and calling than did the world of this woman. Yet, still we feel that pressure to fit the expectations of others – whether it’s our wider culture, the smaller worlds of church and denomination, or just your local context. And so Jesus’ words are to us also:
The best thing for you to do for God might be outside what other people expect of you.