I sometimes ponder what diseases are mentioned in the Bible and this week I was wondering if perhaps influenza was what Simon’s mother in law had. Sure, it could have been any number of things, but the terms “fever” and “bedridden” certainly would fit with influenza. She wasn’t down and out because of sin or wrongdoing; she was ill, simply ill, and Jesus came to her and cured her. Literally translating from the Greek, he lifted her up; he resurrected her and literally, as she is freed from sickness, she starts a ministry of serving; the word used is the same word from which we derive “deacon”. Simon’s mother in law is resurrected and becomes the first deacon. This was not a call to make tea and toast for the guys; this was a call to serve because she was had received, by her own healing, the Good News. I used to think of this passage as full of gender stereotypes: an unnamed woman, just up from a sickbed and with no time for recovery, jumps in and takes care of the men. Even s a little kid, before I heard the term gender stereotype, I thought everyone was unfair to her. But I no longer think Mark was saying that at all. The Bible is far less full of gender bias than I once believed. Mark is not as simple and straight forward as a first reading would make it appear. Simon’s mother in law was like the demons: she figured out right away who Jesus was, understood the Good News, and in her own way began to proclaim it with her own ministry. She sis this, as Mark loves to insist, immediately. She was ahead of Peter and James and John and all the rest. I rather have come to like this woman.
But I am not preaching about the Gospel according to Simon’s mother in law, this is the Gospel of Mark. This is the Gospel that start out with the words of Good News and stops with the women fleeing the empty tomb. No post resurrection sightings; this Gospel is about Jesus here and now.
What has Jesus done so far? John proclaimed the news then baptized Jesus. Jesus is forced to the wilderness and held fast against temptation. John is arrested and Jesus starts proclaiming the Good News, calls his disciples, heads to Capernaum on the Sabbath, taught in the synagogue, expelled the demon (still on the Sabbath), then heads over to Simon and Andrews, heals Simon’s mother in law, and that same evening, when the Sabbath is over, people came to him with all sorts of sicknesses which he cured, then slept for a while and then headed out to pray alone. All in a 24 hour time span. This is a man more concerned with need than rigid rules about what may be done on what day. Yet he honors the Sabbath by attending the synagogue and waiting until sunset to heal the other people. Mercy and healing are greater than the Sabbath itself; perhaps they are part of the reason for the Sabbath.
Jesus also needs his alone time. I think he was an introvert!! He needed time to be where he could fill his tank and for introverts that time is when you are alone, when things are quiet. We all need to find ways to renew and refresh ourselves and ways to pray. You do not need permission to pray; for you it may be with others that you fill your tank and are made ready; for folks like me there needs to be a lot of quiet and alone time. We also need to make space in discussions for those who need to spend a lot of time chewing on something before they speak. I think one of the great advantages of a smaller body of folk gathered is that it is often easier to hear other voices than our own.
The other thing I love about this whole first chapter is how much Jesus does without words: he says not a word to Simon’s mother in law. Have you ever been with someone who needed you to be there, but felt at a loss for words? I suspect we all have. Jesus gives us permission just to be with someone; healing and Good News can be shared without a word passing between two people. Sitting with someone who is dying and you will know that what is needed is your presence, not your intellect or anything else about you but your human essence. Jesus shows us again and again his human side and his desire to be with his fellow human beings. He brings things to the here and now, not to a time long ago in a distant galaxy or a time in some utopian future.
Jesus the human, the incarnate one, is no longer with us. Or is he? Mark wrote his Gospel after Jesus was dead; so what is he trying to tell us? Maybe the answer was in front of us all the time and, like my father used to say, we can’t see the forest for the trees. The Good News is that we are healers and we can be healed. Demons can be expelled. Evil, true evil, understands who God is and knows that if we behave as Jesus would have us behave, do as he taught us to do, it does not stand a chance.
Do you stand in need of healing or forgiveness or both? I know I have been there and when I turned my life over to God, that healing happened. I also know I have been healed by the presence of others, by their touch as much as by their words. I hope I have been that presence for others as they have been for me. I think we are all capable of casting out demons but often doubt our own ability to do so. Perhaps the first chapter of Mark and point us in the right direction: the belief that through God all things are possible and that we can bind up the wounds of others, and we could bind up the wounds of all humanity through the love of Christ.
But for now this is enough: let Jesus take your hand today and lift you from being bedridden and with fever. Let him resurrect you and free you to lead lives of service, to be the deacons of the world because your own world has been made whole.
Reach out and touch
Make this world a better place
If you can!