Daily Reflection
October 14th, 2000
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

St John Ogilvie, S.J.  - Memorial
Galatians 3:22-29
Psalms 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Luke 11:27-28

"Rather," he replied, "blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it."

(Luke 11:28)

So, just do it.  Any questions?

"Well, yes.  One question, please...what do you mean by 'keeping' the word of God?"  Good question.  So, what does it mean to "hear the word of God and keep it?"  It's obvious, right?  Listen and just do it.  That's it, isn't it?  Well, let's just see.  In this installment, I'd like to explore some ways in which the Gospel of Luke talks about "keeping." 

Luke employs the Greek word, phyllasso, here and in other passages.  The word carries these various meanings: 1) to "be sleepless, watch, keep guard; to watch all night;" 2) to "guard, preserve [either things and persons or love and loyalty]; 3) to "watch over, store (in safe keeping;" and 4) to "hold in honor, to obey, to attend to."¹  It is one word in Greek that ends up being translated by about 10 words in English.  So, what might we glean from this? 

Well, "to keep the word of God" might just look like shepherds "keeping their flock by night" (Luke 2:8).  That is, these shepherds watched and guarded what was dear and important to them.  It doesn't matter much whether they'd developed a personal relationship with the sheep.  If they had an emotional attachment to the critters, then they watched with care and devotion.  Even if they didn't, they "kept" the sheep because they fed and clothed them and their families.  Either way, we win, because - whether they did it out of devotion or they did it to support their living - these allow us to form some wonderful images of what "keeping God's word" might mean.

Now, one would expect that Luke would equate "keeping the word of God" with obedience.  This is tricky here, because obedience doesn't get good air time in this gospel.  Consider the story of the Pharisee and the Publican...the older brother in the Prodigal Son story...and the Rich Young Man who said, "All these I have observed (phylasso!) from my youth" (18:21).  This young man had obeyed the commandments, but could not quite respond to Jesus' word, "One thing you still lack.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor..." (18:22)  This one went away sad, "for he was very rich."  It seems that Luke tries to subvert popularly held notions of obedience!  Oy vey!  What are we to do?

Here's my quickie application:  The great spiritual problem in Luke's gospel is greed or possessiveness.  The response that the gospel most often "applauds" is repentance.  Consider, for example, the Publican, the younger son, and the multitudes who left the place of the Skull beating their breasts (23:48).  Consider how the community "shared all things in common" (Acts 2:44) as a sign of the Spirit conquering acquisitiveness.  Maybe "keeping the word of God" invites us to be like shepherds who watch what is precious and/or life-giving.  Maybe it means that we heed the call to repentance from a spirit of possessiveness, greed, avarice, or "having."  "O God, free me, free us from the illusion of possessiveness... (but not yet?)"

¹ The New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology, Volume 2, ed., Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1976), 134.


Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.
Online Ministries
Home Page
for Sunday
Online Retreat
Daily Readings Texts
from the
New American Bible
Daily Readings Texts
from the
RSV Bible
Spirituality Links
Saint of the Day
Collaborative Ministry Office 
Home Page
University Ministry
Home Page
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook