As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11.27-28)
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.” (Luke 1.48-49)
Fertility cults and mother worship are as old as human history. Early on, mankind began to worship mother figures, and it even persists today. In our culture we talk of “mother earth” and “mother nature,” phrases that hearken back to our ancestor’s adoration and veneration of the ideal of motherhood and fertility. And of course, within Christianity, there is a vigorous cult of worship of Mary alive and well today, and today’s passage is where we spy the beginnings of it.
Visions of Mary
The real story of Mary has been, unfortunately, eclipsed by tradition and superstition. Officially, of course, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other more liturgical denominations say that Mary is technically not to be “worshipped,” but “venerated,” a distinction which seems to be lost on the masses who flock to sites where young children claim to have had visions of the blessed virgin. In spite of the technical distinction between “veneration” and “worship,” our more liturgical brothers and sisters unfortunately encourage every outward sign of worshipping the simple girl from Galilee, the faithful virgin named Mary.
In about the fifth century after Jesus walked the earth, strange and superfluous folk teachings about Mary began to crop up, to the point where now, the doctrines range from an unscriptural belief that Mary herself was without original and personal sin from the time of her conception (this is the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” which only became official dogma lately, in the mid-1800s), to the idea that Mary’s body was resurrected and carried off to heaven immediately at her death – the Roman and Eastern doctrine of the “Assumption of Mary”.
In a more disturbing trend, there is a very vigorous movement alive and well that refers to Mary as “The Queen of Heaven,” which should raise significant red flags, turning our attention back to the book of Jeremiah where the children of Israel are vigorously opposed by the Lord Almighty for worshipping a false god known as “The Queen of Heaven.”
Most damnable, however, is a surging movement currently underway within many corners of the Roman Catholic Church to proclaim Mary as a “co-redeemer” with Christ. Clearly, many of our Roman brothers and sisters have elevated Mary to a level that is beyond what Scripture and even reason can bear, making the faithful young girl into a figure more approximate to Christ Himself. What might otherwise have been appropriate appreciation for the story of a faithful woman of God has been elevated to a cult of mother worship.
When we get beyond the clutter and the cultic traditions about Mary, what can we learn from her example? Of course, the truth is, according to the Scriptures, Mary was indeed blessed among women – but not because of any intrinsic sinlessness or special deific powers she had, but simply for this: she heard the word of God and obeyed it.
The Bible says as much in Luke 1.42, where we read that Elizabeth “exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” And in Luke 1.48, Mary says “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary was one of the faithful founders of the early church:she was one of the very few who stuck with Jesus through thick and thin, boldly standing at the foot of the cross on the day He was crucified when almost everyone else ran and hid. Acts 1 tells us that she was with the eleven in the upper room when He appeared after His resurrection.
Notice that in our scripture today that Jesus doesn’t deny that Mary is blessed. However, He goes on to say that any one of us is blessed rather more than Mary if we hear God’s word and obey it. We don’t want to downplay the importance of Mary’s faith, but we dare not elevate her to the level of idolatry and worship. I am reasonably sure that the young girl from Nazareth, if she were to see what had become of the cult surrounding her today, would be shocked and abhorred, and tell all of the Mary worshippers today to stop what they are doing and look to Christ alone for their salvation – now and at the hour of their deaths.
Thicker than Blood
Here’s the main point today: Spiritual relationship with Jesus is more important than family ties. Family is important and can even be a blessing, but our relationship with God is more important. From Abraham who was asked to prove that God was more important to him by sacrificing Isaac, to Jesus himself who said that we must put the kingdom of God above our love for mother, father, brother, sister, and children (Luke 14.26) – the word of God is clear. Spiritual relationship with Jesus is more important than earthly family ties.
Blood may be thicker than water, but the Blood of the Lamb is thicker than any human bloodline. Jesus first. Momma second - or somewhere after that.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12.46-50)
Hear and Do
According to Jesus, being blessed more than Mary is a joy available to anyone who will listen to God and follows His ways. In that sense, we can look to Mary as a great example of a faithful teenager who was willing to take a monumental, life-changing risk and trust God. If we could somehow bring the teenage mother Mary in here today, she would have something simple to say to us – the same thing she said at the wedding of Cana where He turned water into wine: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2.5)
Of course, none of us is able to hear and do what He says on our own. Just as Mary was, we are all too fragile, too broken, and too sinful. We all need the atoning power of the cross and the life-giving Holy Spirit to empower us. Don’t say, “Hail Mary.” Say, “Hail Jesus,” for it is Christ who provided us with every spiritual blessing when He gave his life as a ransom on the cross. As it is written:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1.3)
We have been blessed – by our Lord Jesus Christ. Not by superstition, nor by sleeping saints and apostles, but by the very will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Knowing that we have no other intermediary between us and God, may we have the courage to say, along with the faithful cloud of witnesses who have gone on before – “Be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1.38b)