Jesus is responding to a woman from the crowd that Jesus was speaking to, who said:
"Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." (Luke 11:27)
What does "blessed" mean?
In both her original statement and Jesus' response, the Greek word being translated to "blessed" is μακάριος (makarios). The English word "blessed" does not appropriately capture the meaning of this word, however.
Was Jesus really saying that those who hear the word of God and obey it should be revered?
The word "blessed" can also refer to someone given something by God. So the translation to this word is not completely wrong, because the Supreme Being gives us the opportunity and the means to hear the teachings of His representative and follow them. But blessed simply does not communicate what Jesus was trying to teach them.
But as to a consciousness of someone being revered for their advancement, Jesus specifically spoke out against this consciousness, as he criticized many ecclesiastical Jewish scribes and their followers:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." (Matt. 6:16)What are they wishing for as they pray in public - "to be seen by others"?
They are wanting to be revered by others.
It is thus unlikely that Jesus is speaking of them being revered and respected. Jesus' concern was not getting the respect of others.
According to the lexicon, μακάριος (makarios) also means "happy." This would mean that Jesus is speaking of happiness; joy; fulfillment.
And according to the Meriam Webster dictionary, the word "blessed" means "held in reverence: venerated." It also means, "enjoying happiness," and "enjoying the bliss of heaven."
This means that the translation to "blessed" is not wrong. But the interpretation of the meaning of the word "blessed" - to being honored or revered - is short-sighted.
If we interpreted the word in this way, this would mean that "those who hear the word of God and obey it" are happy, joyous, fulfilled.
The joy of pleasing God
The woman speaking to Jesus was also speaking of joy or happiness. As a woman she was reflecting how happy or joyful Jesus' mother must be to have raised such an exalted person as Jesus.
But Jesus is speaking of an even greater joy. A greater happiness.
That happiness Jesus is speaking of is the joy that comes when a person pleases the Supreme Being. When they serve God.
Let's understand this better. What happens when people "hear the word of God"? And just what is "the word of God"?
"The word" is being translated from the Greek word λόγος (logos), which means, according to Strong's lexicon, not only "a word" but also "doctrine, teaching" and "a continuous speaking discourse - instruction."
So when this word λόγος (logos) is combined with τοῦ θεοῦ - meaning "of God" - λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ - then it is referring to instructions and teachings that are coming from the Supreme Being.
Observe or follow
The Greek word φυλάσσω (phylassō) is being translated to "obey." But it can also mean, "to observe" or "to follow."
In other words, Jesus is speaking of observing or following the teachings of God - which is what the Supreme Being is pleased with.
Let's use an example. Let's say that a man dies and leaves a last will and testament. In it, he leaves instructions to give all of his money to his favorite charity. Why will the executor carry out (observe or follow) those instructions? He carries them out because those are the wishes of the person who passed away. Giving his money to charity is what will please the person who passed.
In the same way, Jesus is carrying out the wishes of the Supreme Being by teaching others how to love and serve the Supreme Being. Thus, Jesus' teaching this to others is pleasing to the Supreme Being.
And carrying out (following, observing) those instructions is also pleasing to the Supreme Being.
But we must understand this seeming contradiction carefully. Even though Jesus is speaking of those "who hear the word of God and obey it" or "who hear the teachings of God and follow them" - which we know will please the Supreme Being - Jesus is stating that the person who follows becomes happy. The person who serves becomes joyful - μακάριος (makarios).
In the physical world, when we think of serving someone or pleasing someone, we think of the person being served as becoming happy, not the person who provided the service.
But Jesus is saying that a person becomes happy or joyful when they follow - and thus please - the Supreme Being. What is that?
This is called love.
It is the natural position of each of us. None of us are masters. We don't really control anything. Nor can we control others. Rather, our natural position is one of servant. God is the Master, and we are His loving servants.
Notice that Jesus is indicating choice here - and following or obeying assumes the opposite: That we can hear the teachings of God and not follow them. We can blow them off, and forget about them. That is our freedom.
You see, the Supreme Being doesn't have slaves. He gives everyone the freedom of choice to love Him and serve Him or not. Those who choose not to love and serve Him come to the physical world and take on a physical body in order to get away from Him. Those who choose to love and serve Him stay in the spiritual realm with Him.
And those of us who wanted to get away from Him and were sent to the physical world are empty as we seek our joy and happiness in the things and temporary forms of this physical world.
This is why Jesus said:
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:22)Jesus is saying that those of us who seek happiness by identifying ourselves with our physical bodies and chasing physical consumption are truly dead inside. Spiritually dead.
But one who not only hears the teachings of God - God's word - as passed on by His representative, and then follows those teachings, is truly happy. They are filled with joy because they are pleasing the Supreme Being - and a loving relationship with the Supreme Being brings us real joy.
This is why Jesus' most important instruction was:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)