Perhaps we can better understand this unnamed woman’s outburst if we recall that in Jesus’ time there would have been far fewer opportunities for a woman to distinguish herself from among her peers than there are today. To have given birth to and raised a “successful” son might have given a woman a sense of pride and accomplishment. Her peers, as evidenced in this story, might have admired her and thought her “blessed.”
It is not uncommon for us, too, to want to distinguish ourselves among our peers. For many of us, our accomplishments not only give us pleasure and satisfaction, they also offer a sense that our lives have been meaningful and worthwhile. Our identity is often wrapped up in these achievements. We learn to value ourselves, and others, based on what we have done. We may gain respect in the eyes of others by our academic or professional accomplishments, or by the fact that we have been able to build wealth or raise our social status. Even if we restrain from bragging openly about our accomplishments, we may savor a hidden sense of pride that we have made a mark on the world and distinguished ourselves in the eyes of others.
But Jesus directs this woman’s attention to something greater. “Blessed rather,” he says, “are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” What good are our accomplishments if they do not reflect God’s values and priorities? What benefit will result from our achievements if they are not done in response to God’s invitation and call, or if they do not reflect the desires of God’s heart? As Jesus warns elsewhere, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
But then, how will we know, of all the opportunities life presents us with, which represent the will of God? By listening. By stilling our minds and hearts and attending carefully to that voice which is God’s alone. By learning to recognize what God values, and to perceive what God is doing in the world. “Blessed are those who hear and obey!”
Several of you have joined us this weekend in silent retreat. The silence is not imposed as a way of restraining you, but rather as a way of liberating you. It is meant to set you free from the constant bombardment of noise and opinions in daily life, and to open up space for you to listen to what is most true, most necessary, most authentic, most congruent with the purposes of God in the world. It is meant to give you a chance to listen and to hear.
When our words or activity are the direct result of what we have heard in secret, they carry far more power and influence. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
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