There are a couple of passages which, every time they come up in the Readings at Mass, admittedly make me cringe a little. The first is from Luke 8:19-21 (we just heard the parallel version from Matt. 12:46-50 at Mass on Tuesday):
Then his mother and his brethren came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
The other is Luke 11:27-28,
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “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!”
These admittedly look like Jesus is rebuking His mother. So what’s really going on here?
1.Jesus is not rebuking Mary, or denying her blessedness.
The reason I drew both of these from Luke is that Luke is the most obviously pro– Marian of the four Gospels. The first two chapters are told largest from the perspective of Mary, including what she’s pondering in her heart (Luke 2:19). And they include these beautiful words from St. Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-45):
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
And this blessing wasn’t some fleeting thing, but something eternal. Mary herself foretold that “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48), a clear prophecy of the unbroken line of Christians honoring Mary down through the ages. So whatever else may be true, Jesus isn’t denying any of this. He’s not contradicting the inspired sayings of Elizabeth or Mary. He’s not saying, “You’re wrong, my mom’s not blessed!” So what is He saying?
2. Jesus corrects why Mary is blessed.
In Luke 8, the crowds think Mary and Jesus’ other relatives are going to get special treatment simply because they’re blood. And in Luke 11, the woman in the crowd views Mary as blessed for similarly biological reasons. But Jesus turns them each time from the biological to the spiritual relationship. The true family of God includes all those who believe. This is Good News for those of us who are adopted sons and daughters of God by faith, through baptism.
But again, this doesn’t exclude Mary. In fact, Mary is both the first disciple of Jesus, and the first person praised for such faith. Elizabeth praises her not simply for being Jesus’ mom, but because she “believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” That is, Mary is blessed primarily for her faith, and it’s owing to this faithfulness that God saw fit to make her the Mother of our Lord. Merely being a blood relative of Jesus isn’t enough. Just look at Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 or Matt. 1:1-16 to see what I mean – it’s a decidedly mixed bag.
3. This reveals something about Jesus.
Those first two points are more or less ones that I made in the post from 2011. The reason I decided it was worthwhile to write another post (besides the fact that not everyone reads archives from 2011) is that there’s a dimension that I hadn’t noticed back then… this is a revelation of who Jesus is.
The crowds seem to be imagining that Jesus is something like a Davidic king. They may well have had in mind God’s blessing to Abraham’s wife Sarah: “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gen. 17:16). And to be the mother of a king was an enormous honor, as we see from King Solomon’s approach towards mother (1 Kings 2:19):
So Bathshe′ba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adoni′jah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right.
This makes sense. After all, royalty was based on bloodline, so to be related to a royal was a big deal, because it meant you had royal blood. This is the only fathomable reason for why people (especially Americans) should care in even the slightest way about the children of Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle. Due to their marriages, those women are bearing royal children. So if that’s how you’re seeing Jesus – ascending royalty, like King David – then it makes sense that you would view the locus of blessing at the biological level. “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” makes sense to say to a king, and it’s fitting that everyone should clear out for the Queen and the Princes to come through.
But this misunderstands who Jesus is. True, He’s a King, but as He explained to Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world” (John 18:36). In other words, He’s not simply a King, He’s a god… the God, in fact. And our primary way of relating to God is not through biology, but through faith.
So it’s true, Mary is a Queen, but not because she’s the mother of an earthly ruler. Rather, it’s because she’s the most loyal disciple of the Incarnate God, a God who took on flesh through her. It’s why Rev. 12:17 says that “her offspring” are “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” Again, this is tremendous news for us. Odds are, you’re not royalty by blood or marriage (if any royals are reading this, sorry I made fun of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle earlier, I was mostly joking). But through faith, you really can be adopted into the family of God, and you can speak truly of God as your Father, Mary as your Mother, and Jesus as your Brother. Every little girl’s desire to be a princess is fulfilled in the plan of God. Love God, and be royal!