based on Mark 1:29-39
The theme for pre-school chapel this week was “Jesus’ Many Miracles.” With a theme like that, where do you begin?
The feeding of the 5,000? The four men who lowered their friend through the roof so that Jesus could heal him
The ten lepers who were cleansed? The two blind men Jesus healed? The one little girl he raised from the dead?
I started with this one – the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.
Notice it happens RIGHT after Jesus leaves the synagogue – right after his teaching and casting out of the demon.
He goes to Simon Peter’s house and Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. She has a fever. And I say to all of the children, “Have you ever had a fever?” – and they all said “Yes!”
It’s an ordinary sickness, something all of us can understand, especially in a year when there is a particularly scary variety of flu going around.
We have all had a fever – although it might help to remember that there was a time when a fever was a lot more worrisome than it usually is now.
I remember hearing a story at a funeral once – the woman who died, I was told, had a secret.
She had been married once, briefly, before her current marriage. But her husband had died after they were married only a short time, maybe a year.
He died of an infection. Her second husband got sick with an infection, but he got well – because in the intervening two years – they had discovered – penicillin. It must have seemed like a miracle.
So a fever – it’s a common sickness – an ordinary sickness – and maybe we can even imagine being healed from a fever – more than we can imagine some Jesus’ other miracles.
Peter’s mother in law was sick in bed with aches and pains and she couldn’t do the things that she was used to doing – and Jesus came right up to her – not worried about germs or anything – and he took her by the hand and healed her
And she got up and served them.
And I have thought of this scene in somewhat humorous ways, I’ll admit
– I’ve pictured her as a sort of first century version of Raymond’s mother on Everybody Loves Raymond, getting up and putting on a big pot of stew, because that’s what Jesus and his disciples needed right now.
“You hungry? Sit down. I’m better now.”
Women’s work is never done, am I right?
There’s something about this scene that I love – and – I’ll confess – something about it that bothers me.
I love it because it shows that Peter’s mother-in-law is fully healed. And you know, I’ve had a fever, and even when it leaves, getting up and cooking –that’s not the first thing I want to do.
Well, actually, though I love cooking “a little” – it’s not always my favorite thing, so maybe part of what bothers me is the idea that she’s the one who has to do it.
I know that she’s doing it with love – and I know that she’s doing it as well out of gratitude and love — she’s serving for the same reason all of us do ANYTHING – to show our gratitude and thanksgiving.
So I love that this scene shows this woman getting up with energy – and giving back with gratitude – and not in some big and dramatic way, but in an ordinary way.
Really, it’s an example of living generously. She is a giver – and when she is healed, what is the first thing she does?
She gives. She serves. She cooks and makes her guests feel at home.
So this is a great example of how healing is not an end point – it’s a beginning point.
Or maybe it’s both an end – and a beginning.
When we are healed by Jesus, when we are set free by Jesus, when we are given life and forgiveness and hope by Jesus – it’s the end of one thing – but it’s the beginning of another.
It’s the beginning of a new purpose in life, the beginning of hands and hearts and lives more open – the beginning of living with generosity.
But here’s what else I think about – when I think about Peter’s mother-in-law – I just hate to have her gifts restricted to cooking and cleaning.
Those are good gifts. But they are not the only gifts – and not the only gifts for women.
Recently I read somewhere that the word here for service – it’s the greek word “diakonia” by the way, is used in scripture two different ways. If the subject is a woman, diakonia is translated “serve” or “wait on”.
But if the subject is a man, or men, the word is translated as “served as a deacon”, “did a deacon’s job.”
And what was a deacon’s job? In the early church, deacons were servants, that’s for sure.
But what they did was organize in the church to make sure that those who were needy got their needs met by the resources of the community.
They operated the food bank, for example. Made sure the money collected went to the people who needed it. As one commentator put it – they connected “the need with the resource.”
And this perspective answers a question that I have about this scripture reading. How did all of those people – the needy people – find out about Jesus, and where he was staying? Was it just the mysterious Holy Spirit?
Maybe. OR maybe Peter’s mother-in-law was doing a deacon’s job – not just making the stew and cleaning the house – but going out and telling people where the resource could be found – the healer for all of their hearts, and bodies and souls.
Need – and resource. That’s what it means to be a deacon. That’s what it means to be a servant.
I recently read a story about a priest In Bolivia, Father Pedro Arrupe.
One day Father Arrupe was invited to the home of a poor member of his congregation.
“The man had a gift for the padre, he explained. So Arrupe accompanied the man and was led to a shack, where the man lived with his wife and children. It was so rough, small, and spare, it took Arrupe’s breath away. He was moved so deeply, his eyes brimmed with tears. Then The man led him to a huge opening in the wall. Not a window but just a hole, and he pointed. It was a sunset. That was his gift. *
Need – and resource. He brought the priest to the Sunset – and it was an ordinary miracle.
Because we all need healing – of some kind or another – and we all have gifts to share – holes through which we show and share the glory of God.
And there is more kind of healing – and what do we do – when we leave here? And when we share – when we serve – we become ordinary miracles.
Because despite everything about us that is marred and flawed and wounded and broken, we show forth the glory of God.
We connect our children to the one who made sunsets, and beauty, and them.
We connect homeless families with food and shelter and the love of God. We connect sinners with the source of healing and hope.
Need – and resource.
Come to the table and open your hands to receive the life and healing you need.
And then go – as an ordinary miracle – to share that healing with others.
*the story about Father Aruppe I found in “Barking tothe Choir,” Father Gregory Boyle