Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
She woke up that morning not feeling well. She decided to have a rare lie-in. When everyone else rose in the household, readying themselves for another day in the workforce, they noticed the usual breakfast was not prepared, school lunches for the children were not packed. They would have to quickly ready themselves for the day. When they returned home many hours later, Mama was still in bed. She had a fever. This was unusual, and more than a little concerning. She was never ill.
Just then, Simon, Andrew, John and James stormed into the house, bringing with them the teacher who had caused so many disruptions, both positive and challenging, to everyone’s life. It was the usual practice of the time for the eldest woman of the house to serve her guests as host, but when Simon asked about Mama he learned of her illness. Jesus had just healed a man at the synagogue during worship; could he help Mama as well? “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Whereas Jesus’ voice brought healing to the man in the worship service, now it’s his physical touch doing the work.
Over the centuries, Christian commentators and theologians developed very negative understandings of the physical body. The mind was valued over the rest of us; faith development was an intellectual activity-- reason became a pillar of Christian discipleship. This separation within the physical body is tied to Original Sin/the Fallenness of the natural world. This has impacted how we think about physical contact, intimacy between loved ones, and even our Christian responsibility to be good stewards of the creation. If everything is broken, why is it important to preserve forests or change destructive practices?
But the physical world, and our physical bodies, are not evil. There is no separation between mind/body/spirit. In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches that the body is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and uses the connectedness of the body as a metaphor for the church: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8). The sacraments of the church, Holy Communion and baptism, are physical; we touch and taste bread and wine. We feel the waters at our baptism. These tangible signs of an inward grace remind us of God’s presence in the busy-ness of our lives.
We do not know anything about the woman in the story, other than her family connections. She is Simon’s mother in law. She is not named, and her offering of service is not even identified. Did she prepare them her most famous dish for dinner? We are given no details. What we do know is that her service is not meant to be understood as servitude-- she is a host, fulfilling her duty in her own home. In fact, the language Mark used to describe Mama’s gift to Jesus and the others is nearly identical to one used to describe the angels’ service to Jesus after his temptation by Satan in the wilderness: The angels “waited on” Jesus; the woman in the house “served” her guests. This woman reminded me of my grandmother in her kitchen. She was happiest when her house was full of family and she was making something they loved to eat. It was an act of loving hospitality--service from the heart-- but also, it was clear who was in charge. The same is true in Mama’s home.
Jesus spent the remainder of the evening healing other members of the community with physical or emotional needs. Mama’s house became a sort of neighborhood clinic. The next morning Jesus rose early, even earlier than Mama, to retreat to the wilderness, where he spent time in prayer. Even the Lord of the Universe, the healer of Galilee, the One with powerful voice and touch, needed time away to recharge and refocus. The needs were many, and to meet them Jesus attended to his own spiritual life. It’s a good message for those of us struggling to keep our sanity, stay on task, meet our many obligations. All of those things are important and have value, but without faithful spiritual practice we will find ourselves unable to function in a healthy way.
Frantically, the disciples show up and interrupt Jesus’ prayer time, saying everyone is looking for him, but Jesus decided to continue moving in a new direction. While his fame spread throughout the countryside, he was not interested in becoming a celebrity. His focus was on the need in front of him, not the growing crowds behind him. The day before, Jesus took Mama by the hand and “lifted her up,” the same language often used by Gospel writers to describe resurrection. She had not died, but she experienced the power of resurrection, raising her to new life. She immediately seized the opportunity to do her duty: using her gift of ministry to minister to her guests. As believers in Jesus’ resurrection, you and I are also raised to a new life--a life of service-- in this world. And like Mama in the story, we use our resurrection lives to serve others.
During the Covid pandemic, life has been especially hard on mothers. I read a series of articles from Friday’s New York Times describing some of the struggles mothers have faced over the past twelve months:
“Almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce — with Black mothers, Hispanic mothers and single mothers among the hardest hit. Almost one in four children experienced food insecurity in 2020, which is intimately related to the loss of maternal income. And more than three quarters of parents with children ages 8 to 12 say the uncertainty around the current school year is causing them stress.”
“Just before the pandemic hit, for the first time ever, for a couple months, we had more women employed than men,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress. “And now we are back to late 1980s levels of women in the labor force.”
“Almost 70 percent of mothers say that worry and stress from the pandemic have damaged their health.”
How can those of us who do not have young children at home serve the needs of moms in our community who are struggling? What resources: physical/spiritual/financial are needed for them to experience a gift of loving hospitality in their own situation? Surveys of those who transitioned to working from home have shown hours have extended far beyond the usual 9:00-5:00. One remedy I have instituted this week was to enable notifications on my phone to pray at 8:00/noon/6:00. A cross pops up, says “Time to pray,” I click it, and my Common Prayer app opens up, offering prayers, hymns, and devotions. Here’s what showed up this morning. I thought of Mama:
“Eighteenth-century Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote, ‘The great and firm foundation of the spiritual life is the offering of ourselves to God and being subject to his will in all things. We must completely forget ourselves, so that we regard ourselves as an object which has been sold and over which we no longer have any rights. We find all our joy in fulfilling God's pleasure — his happiness, his glory and the fact that he is our great and only delight. Once we have this foundation, all we need to do is spend our lives rejoicing that God is God and being so wholly abandoned to his will that we are quite indifferent as to what we do and equally indifferent as to what use he makes of our activities.’"
Simon’s mother in law always made herself available to her family and guests as an offering of hospitality. When illness did not allow her to perform her duty to her best, God’s love and power intervened. Feeling the touch of Jesus, the resurrection power already at work in him raised and restored her. She responded to this gift by sharing her gift of service. Our cups may be filled, even running over with blessing-- or there may be little left in the cup. We may regularly feel the touch of God’s presence, or we may feel isolated and alone, lost in a spiritual wilderness. If we are experiencing brokenness, emotional or physical needs, or having difficulty adapting to unforeseen challenges, God is able to reach through our current reality and help us see a new one. If we have experienced being “lifted up” from our former condition, we can joyfully use our gifts to bless others.
Jesus has left Mama’s house, and all of Capernaum, behind; perhaps he’s headed our direction next. If we are struggling, may he find us open to his resurrection power. If we are well, may he find us joyfully sharing our resurrection life--a life of service.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
whose touch can heal the broken places of life,
touch us today...
God of peace,
whose spirit of peace can quiet our spirits
of confusion and despair,
reassure us today...
whose call to repentance promises grace upon grace,
place your mercy in our souls today...
You who heal the sick and liberate the imprisoned,
who bring justice in the midst of oppression
and strength in the midst of weakness,
pour out your spirit of power upon us today.
Open our hearts to new faithfulness,
redirect our waywardness,
and hold us gently in your goodness.
We confess our need to you,
and we turn to you with hearts filled with hope,
remembering the promises you have made to us.
May your name be glorified in us and through us.
We ask it through Christ Jesus,
your only begotten son,
he who is our Lord and our Savior,
our brother and our friend. Amen.
— based on materials by Peter K. Perry, and posted on Richard Fairchild’s Kir-shalom website.Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/01/call-to-worship-prayer-epiphany-4b.html