5th Week after The Epiphany
Scholars believe that today's Gospel represents the perspective of Simon Peter. It opens with the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, welcoming Jesus into their home, along with other disciples. The brothers tell Jesus that Simon's mother-in-law is sick with a high fever. Without a word, he takes her by the hand, helps her up from her sickbed, and her fever disappears. The woman is healthy again! She asks no questions, engages in no speculations. She expresses her gratitude through service. She puts lunch on the table for her family and her guests.
This story is remarkable in several respects. Certainly it's remarkable that Jesus cures this woman, and does so in a way that allows her to return to normal immediately. But it is also remarkable that Jesus touches this woman. He is, after all, a rabbi, and rabbis in that time and place simply do not do that. Finally, the woman's response is remarkable. Rabbis are not allowed to be served at table by women. But Simon's mother-in-law goes ahead and violates this rule. Jesus has set her free, not only from physical illness, but also from social constraint.
The news of her recovery spreads like wildfire. As soon as they can, people from all over town bring their sick relatives to be healed. The house is now surrounded by a surging, moving mass of humanity. Jesus heals each sick person. But in time, Jesus becomes weary. Once the crowd disperses, he goes off and sleeps for several hours. He's up again before dawn and goes to spend time in solitary prayer.
This interlude is soon interrupted by the arrival of Simon and those with him. Here Mark's Gospel does not call these men disciples for the simple reason that they act as spokesmen for the townsfolk. And what do they want? They want him to remain. There are still many in their town that are ill. These people who confront Jesus sound desperate. According to Luke's account, the multitudes "came to him, and held on to him, so that he wouldn’t go away from them." But who can blame them? They are pleading on behalf of their sick relatives. We would do the same.
If we listen carefully to Jesus' response, it may surprise us: "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." Jesus is saying that he must leave this town. He will perform no further healings here. He will go to some other town instead, and start the process over again. This decision is in line with what Jesus has come to do. It is not his aim simply to cure people of their diseases, wonderful though that is. He honors physical health as God's gift, but recognizes that God’s mission for him is even greater.
He has come to inaugurate a new reign of God on the earth. Jesus wants to heal not just the body, but the whole person. He wants not only to help individuals, but to transform the world. Jesus does not want patients who become well and then return to business as usual. He wants disciples who accept a new life and extend his ministry out into their world. That’s why he said even greater things will his disciples do. He wants the people he heals to go forth and heal others, disrupting in every corner the forces of destruction, and establishing that reality he calls the reign of God.
With one exception, we don't know what happens to the people Jesus heals that day. The one exception is Peter's mother-in-law. She learns from her encounter with Jesus that God does not will suffering, but wants suffering to come to an end. She learns also that she can serve as an instrument of God's purpose. From Jesus she gains a new power in her life. That power makes her bold enough to overcome constraints. It makes her willing to meet the needs of others.
When he heals her, Jesus says nothing to Simon's mother-in-law. Yet somehow she hears his question, "Won't you help me with this?" And so she begins a new life, marked not by conventional servitude, but by transforming freedom, the true liberty of God's children which empowers her to help others because Christ has helped her. She dies to her old, constricted self, and is born again to an abundant life. She becomes a beacon of that new kingdom of which Jesus speaks.
God still heals as he did on that day, not only our bodies, but our souls, our minds, our hearts, our memories, our relationships, our families, and our social structures. God uses a variety of means to bring wholeness to us, our loved ones and our world, through physicians, nurses, counselors, clergy, teachers, parents, friends who meet for a cup of coffee, and institutions like the Church that strive to make the world a better place.
All true healing is the work of God. It is for each of us to ask ourselves, "Where is God at work healing me?" "In what aspect of my life do I need God’s touch? How is God now at work in my life to transform me so that I may become the person God has created me to be?"
Henri Nouwen, one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century wrote a book entitled, “The Wounded Healer.” In that book he describes how God desires not only to make each of us whole, but that God desires to use those places of brokenness in our own lives as avenues of God’s grace for others. As followers of Jesus we are to become, like Peter’s mother-in-law, wounded healers. Nouwen puts it like this, “Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others. When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing. Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings.”
"Where is God at work healing me?"
As an answer to that question comes into focus, an answer as unique as each of us, then we may hear still another question: "What would God have me do?" Following Jesus can be as simple as offering ourselves as wounded healers for those around us.