COMMUNICATION 04 - Jesus‘ style communication: a woman praising Jesus

How did Jesus communicate with people?
  • The gospels record many of Jesus’ interactions with individual persons
  • Luke 11:27-28 is a very short two verse encounter Jesus has with a woman: “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
  • In order to understand the situation, we need to see what happened just before. The description is found in Lu 11:14-26 and Mk 3:19-30.
  • We also need to know something about how Jews viewed women in NT times.
Context: Investigating a would-be-Messiah                                    Luk 11:14-26, Mrk 3:19-30

Jesus is investigated by the spiritual leaders

  • The spiritual leaders in Jerusalem have heard about this new miracle-working Rabbi. Whenever a special would-be-Messiah figure arose, the spiritual leaders would investigate in the following way:
  • First emissaries were sent mainly to observe the person’s words and deeds and to report back (Mk 2:15-27).
  • Second emissaries to question the person specifically on issues found problematic. Luk 11:14-26 and Mrk 3:19-30 seems to describe this 2nd stage.
  • When Jesus casts out a demon, they promptly declare “He has Beelzebul , and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons” (Mrk 3:22, Luk 11:15).

Why do they conclude this?

  • They found in the first investigation (Mrk 2:15-27) that Jesus didn’t adhere strictly to the oral traditions they consider mandatory.
  • For example: Jesus did not follow the separation from ‘sinners’ and ‘Gentiles’ (Mrk 2:16), nor regular fasting (Mrk 2:18) and neither is he strictly following the sabbath laws (Mrk 2:24).
  • This makes them conclude that Jesus is not really obeying the law, and therefore cannot be the Messiah. He is not sent from God.
  • When Jesus does powerful miracles, this raises a question: Where does Jesus get his power from? If he is not of God, he must have his power from the devil. Hence their conclusion.

What does their conclusion imply?

  • Beelzebul was originally the name of a Phoenician god and cult.
  • Here the leaders use the word ‘Beelzebul’ to designate ‘the ruler of demons’, basically as a way to refer to Satan, the chief of the fallen angels.
  • They have therefore declared Jesus to be evil and demon-possessed. Actually possessed by the most powerful demon.
  • Now: By whom does Jesus really do his miracles? > By the Holy Spirit.
  • This means that the spiritual leaders have indirectly just declared the Holy Spirit to be Satan.
  • That’s why Jesus in his answer to them warns them about ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ in Mrk 3:29.
  • Jesus challenges them with two logical illustrations and a strong warning:
  • The illustrations: If Satan casts our Satan, his kingdom is divided and can’t stand (Mrk 3:23-26). One cannot rob a house unless one binds the strong man in the house (Mrk 3:27). Jesus challenges the faulty logic of their argument.
  • The warning: Jesus says that blasphemy against the Spirit cannot be forgiven (Mrk 3:29). Why can it not be forgiven?
  • The answer is simple: God’s forgiveness depends on our repentance. The work of the Holy Spirit is precisely to convict of sin, to draw the sinner towards repentance. If I declare the Holy Spirit to be ‘the voice of Satan’, I reject and disobey the only voice that leads me to repentance > therefore I will not repent > therefore I can’t be forgiven. This is not because God doesn’t want to forgive, but because I am refusing to repent. That is what the ‘unforgivable sin’ is: I disqualify myself from forgiveness by my stubborn refusal to yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus seriously warns the Pharisees not to persist in this stubbornness.
  • In the middle of all this quarrel and tension, a woman (out of the crowd) blurts out a comment (Luk 11:27):
  • “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”
  • What is happening? It seems the woman in the back row didn’t really understand the conflict going on with the scribes. It probably took her all her courage to speak publicly to this Rabbi!
  • To understand her words and the situation better, we need to know something about how the Jews in New Testament times were viewing women.
Rabbinic view of women in New Testament times

In the Old Testament, God sets down a high view of women. But by the time of the New Testament, the Jewish Rabbis viewed women as inferior. Rabbis taught that:

  • Women sin more easily than men
  • Women are more easily deceived
  • There is no need to teach the Law of Moses to women
  • There is no need for women to obey religious rules
  • The word of women is not legally binding
  • Women cannot not testify in court
  • If a Rabbis speaks to a woman in public he can end up in hell
  • The ‘Bleeding Pharisees’ blinded their eyes while walking on the road so they did not have to see a woman.
  • Rabbi Eliezer said ‘rather should the Law be burnt than given to a woman’
  • The Jewish Mishna says: ‘two men are worth 100 women’
Luke 11:27
  • Already it is clear that Jesus did not agree with the Rabbinic view of women: He allows women to access him. He deliberately teaches in such places where women cannot be easily kept away (market places, sea side, hill side, open spaces).
  • For this woman to speak up and publicly address Jesus was an act of courage, especially in the presence of spiritual leaders.
  • But what is she really saying? What does “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” actually mean?
  • Basically she is praising Jesus’ mother Mary. Indirectly she is praising Jesus: ‘blessed is the woman who has such a son!’ She is praising Jesus, she is acknowledging Jesus’ goodness and worth.
  • Her praise is spoken entirely from a woman’s perspective: Since a woman could not really have a religious life of her own (according to the Rabbinic teaching), the highest religious achievement for a woman was to have a godly husband … or better still: a very godly son. She sees Jesus, and praises him and his mother.
  • But there most likely is a bitter-sweetness, a pain and envy in her praise. Basically she is saying ‘I wish I had a son like you, then I would be honored, then I would be somebody’. She may have had a good husband or son, or she may not, or she may be a widow, or childless, we don’t know.
  • There may also a hopelessness in her praise: ‘There is nothing, really, I can do, nothing I can give or contribute. I have nothing in myself that God would want.’
  • Imagine for a minute that Jesus would answer as we think appropriate. Imagine he had said: ‘Thank you for your kind praise, my mother Mary indeed is blessed!’
  • How would the woman have felt? > She would have felt good for his thankful acknowledgment. But that would have been it. She still doesn’t have a son like him, and she still can do nothing.
  • Though is would have been ‘nice’ to hear those words, these words would not really have helped her, nor given her life.
  • Clearly Jesus does not tell people what they want to hear, neither does he say something nice just to make them happy. He will not let the lie remain that, as a woman, she can’t do much or has nothing to give.
Luke 11:28
  • What is Jesus’ answer instead? “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
  • This is almost a rebuke and definitely a correction. She probably didn’t expect an answer like this, not did it feel that good at first.
  • Note that he is giving her a completely gender-neutral answer: hearing the word of God and obeying it. Everybody is addressed. This is something she as a woman can do! Jesus basically says: ‘
    • You can give me something’
    • ‘I desire your obedience’
    • ‘already you are following me, listening, showing courage, obeying’
    • ‘you won‘t be measured forever by the husband and son you don’t have’
  • Jesus refuses to accept the limitations culture has put on women.
  • Jesus breaks the lies behind her well-meant praise.
  • Jesus opens doors before her.
  • Jesus wants her heart, which she can give.
  • Already she has responded, otherwise she wouldn’t be there listening, and even taking courage to raise her voice. Jesus affirms and praises her, though not in the way she expects.
  • And yes, Jesus’ mother Mary is indeed blessed, because Mary did exactly that: hear God’s word and obey!
  • Jesus is not denying his mother, but he is communicating value to this woman, to all women.
  • Jesus brings freeing truth.
  • Jesus communicates hope and significance to her: her obedience matters.
  • And what does Jesus show the horrified scribes who are looking on?
The Scribes hearing Jesus' conversation with the woman
  • What do you think the scribes are thinking??
    • > ‘he is speaking with a woman in public!’
    • > ‘how can he call himself a Rabbi if he behaves like this?’
    • > ‘how can he attend to her in the middle of our important talk?’
    • > ‘doesn’t he know what’s important?‘
  • Basically they have just proven to themselves what they already thought: Jesus is not spiritual, he is not of God and he definitely is not the Messiah.
  • What is Jesus’ message to the scribes through this encounter?
    • > Jesus will not share their pride nor bow to hierarchy nor human rules
    • > Jesus models an attitude of giving value
    • > Jesus cares more for the woman than for his reputation
    • > He let’s the woman’s attitude of affirmation and giving challenge theirs
  • The woman is simply refreshing to him.
  • How absolutely amazing Jesus is in the way he communicates! Never just flattering, never just ‘making happy’, never cheap, never evasive, never devaluing, but always true, real, freeing and truly concerned about the highest for others.
  • Jesus doesn’t take pressure, he is fearless in what he says, caring, utterly committed to truth and deeply encouraging. To be able to communicate like him!