“A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Lk. 11:27-28).
At first glance, this passage can be a little troubling for us as Catholics. Is Our Lord denigrating Our Lady’s pivotal role in salvation history? After all, His emphasis seems to be on listening to the Word of God, not dwelling on Mary’s maternity. What is this enigmatic passage actually teaching us?
It should be noted that the woman in the crowd is, perhaps unwittingly, the first to fulfill Mary’s prophecy in her Magnificat, recorded earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel, that “all generations” would call her blessed (Lk. 1:48)–a prophecy we also fulfill every time we pray the Hail Mary. Further, in the account of the Visitation, Scripture explicitly notes that Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she declares that Mary is “blessed” among women (Lk. 1:41-42). The issue, then, isn’t whether Mary is blessed, but understanding how and why Mary is blessed.
Jesus addresses the basis of Mary’s blessing in Luke 11:27-28. He reveals that this blessing is more profound than a merely biological mother-son relationship. Surely His taking on human nature in the womb of Mary is not being slighted here. Further, we have no reason to believe that the God-Man failed to live out the Fourth Commandment’s injunction to honor one’s parents. In the Finding in the Temple, for example, we read that Jesus returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them (cf. Lk. 2:51).
Yet Jesus, the light to the nations, the One who could raise up biological descendents from stones (cf. Lk. 3:8), was intent on His Heavenly Father’s business: establishing the kingdom of God. This kingdom goes beyond our flesh and blood relationships, and is rooted in our faith in Christ and fidelity to His holy will. On this score, Mary not only gave birth to Jesus and nursed Him, but even more she heard the Word of God and kept it. Indeed, Elizabeth also said at the Visitation that Mary was blessed precisely because she believed what the Lord told her would come to pass (cf. Lk. 1:45). She not only heard the Word, but kept it, pondering it in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).
May our own love for our dear Blessed Mother express itself in our hearing the Word of God and keeping it in our daily lives.
For more on the Blessed Virgin Mary, I recommend The Luminous Mysteries by Tim Gray and Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, coedited by Scott Hahn and Leon Suprenant.