While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Luke 11:27-28 "Your mother must be so proud!" I have often heard these words or their equivalents as I have traveled and spoken in various places over the years. Flattering a preacher or pastor is often times a way of avoiding the appropriate response to the message. Rather than face the conviction, we often try to remove the spotlight of the Holy Spirit from ourselves by flattering and praising others. I don't think that is exactly what is happening in this passage. I think this woman is just excited about Jesus and so she is blessing his mother for giving birth to Him. Jesus, however, seems to be concerned to press the issue of response into greater importance for his hearers. "The blessing" Jesus says, "is upon you who are hearing the announcement of the Gospel. But don't be satisfied with merely hearing and not doing anything about it!" (My paraphrase). The crowds were increasing but Jesus seems concerned that they are still not hearing Him:
"This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation." Luke 11:29-30 This seems like a harsh statement, especially considering the praise that Jesus had just received from this woman. Wicked generation? Just because they wanted a "sign"? And what does Jesus mean that "no sign" will be given to this generation? Didn't Jesus just cast out demons (Luke 11:14)? Wasn't that a "sign"? This is in fact the second time that Jesus refers to his contemporary generation as being "wicked" or "evil". "Face it", He said, "you are evil. And yet you know how to give good gifts to your children...". Luke 11:13 And that comment is not unrelated to what is happening here. Jesus is wrestling with the tension that comes from announcing and enacting the fulfillment of a long anticipated moment, the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, while simultaneously declaring that the ways of the kingdom are not as expected in many cases. It is the tension that comes from mixed passions that are excited by both fulfillment and radical innovation. I think that Jesus is wrestling with persuasion. How can he communicate the Gospel without letting His hearers squash His message into the shape they wanted it to have? I share that same problem when I preach the gospel. Undoubtedly, God still has that same problem when communicating with me. I am hard-hearted and/or fearful sometimes, avoiding the truth that I need to hear. Jesus' comforting words regarding prayer and God's willingness to grant us our requests and other good things is also part of Jesus' attempt to assure His hearers that while things in this Kingdom of God movement may not be quite what they expected, they are in fact good things. God knows how to give good gifts to His children and that is what He is doing in and through Jesus. So trust Him and believe because of the works themselves. Demons are being cast out by the finger of God! Certainly God is at work! I think one of the reasons that Jesus says that "no sign will be given to this generation" is due to the fact that the signs Jesus has already given, I.e. casting out demons, was being interpreted as a sign of a false teacher who uses dark forces of the Satan to stage exorcisms. If that is how they are going to treat Jesus' signs, there will be nothing left for them to receive. No sign of the kind they wanted from Jesus (maybe some small military victory for starters?) would be given. The only other sign that Jesus was willing to offer was the sign of being buried in the heart of the earth as Jonah was in the heart of the whale, and being resurrected in three days. That, Jesus says, would be God's vindication of Him. That would be the sign that they could see, if they really wanted too, which would demonstrate that Jesus really is God's anointed Messiah who is leading His people out of slavery once again.
What sign do you require from God in order for you to believe and obey?