Professor Jeffery Sobal studies culturally determined ideas about body size and shape. In one article he described the reaction of South Pacific islanders to Blue Hawaii, a movie starring Elvis Presley. While North Americans tend to value thin, firm bodies, the islanders prefer stocky, curvy women. Sobal explains, "They couldn’t understand why he spent all his time chasing the skinny blonde in the bikini." They thought her friend was a better catch.
Not only do different society’s values conflict with each other, they can also conflict with kingdom values. In Jesus’ culture, women were valued for what their bodies could do. Fertile women who were able to produce many offspring were esteemed. Infertile women who were unable to bear children experienced the weight of cultural shame. As an example of this value system, one woman in the crowd shouted out a common blessing to Jesus, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!" (v. 27). It was intended as a high compliment.
Jesus’ response inverts this compliment to change values and priorities. Throughout the Gospels, we witness a culture’s discrimination against those whose bodies are disabled, and we also see Jesus moving toward those who are blind and deaf, toward those who are bent and paralyzed. He brings the values of a new kingdom.
Notice that this woman’s compliment wasn’t bad—the ability to bear and nurture children is a marvelous gift. But it is not the greatest gift. Kingdom values— hearing and obeying God’s Word— trumps even the most wonderful thing human bodies can do. Jesus affirms that true blessedness is accessible to all who turn toward God’s truth.
Apply the Word
Are you aware of what your society values about bodies? Who are the ones featured in magazines and plastered on billboards? Kingdom values proclaim that the person who is truly blessed is the one who hears God’s Word and obeys. No matter what kind of body you have, you can listen and obey today!