Sunday's Gospel Reading 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 sundown, 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. 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 neighboring 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. -Mark 1:29-39
Peter's mother-in-law is lifted up as in the Resurrection we celebrate in Easter. And she begins to serve - just as the apostles are sent out to serve, as we celebrate in Pentecost. She is the church's first deacon. She announces the Gospel by her action. Healed, transformed, and readily at service she slips into her role as easily as if her life-time had prepared her for it. Which it had, of course.
She serves, like Jesus himself. For the son of man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:45) She receives the Light into her home, she is raised up by the Light, the Light shines through her as she ministers to others.
And, say witnesses, the place designated as her home in Capernaum is to this day the site of many healings.
"Simon's house, run by his mother-in-law, becomes a household of God, a church, a gathering of those in need of healing and forgiveness" (Meditation One). But even Jesus must refresh his relationship with Divine Love through the embrace of solitude (Meditation Two) in order to continue his mission of love (Meditation Three).
Arise, shine for your Light has come… -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) the house
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. -Mark 1:32
So the power of God goes forth; it moves out to those beyond the realm of institutional religious practice and worship into the house of the followers of Jesus. This is Jesus, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, who has "called you for the victory of justice" and "grasped you by the hand." This images the work of Jesus, raising us from the dead, saving us from evil, grasping us for the victory of justice, wrenching us away from the violence of evil and the shallowness of selfish ritual. There is no sickness, physical, psychological, or spiritual, that, once touched by Jesus, can stand against the power of God. And Simon's mother-in-law's response to Jesus is immediate: she rises from her bed and begins to wait on them. …
Simon's house, run by his mother-in-law, becomes a household of God, a church, a gathering of those in need of healing and forgiveness. Some older translations use the phrase "the whole world was pressing up against the door." This is the new gathering place, the new company of Jesus. It embraces those in need of healing and those healed and grasped for the victory of justice, helping the multitudes who come to Jesus.
-Megan McKenna On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross
I am often amazed that this last line offends many, especially women, who may cynically respond, "That's why she was healed, to be a servant to the men." But they have missed the meaning of the phrase "to wait on them," which is the term used for a deacon. She "ministers" to him, just as the "angels ministered to him" during his time in the desert. Jesus has gone out to Simon's mother-in-law in her disease and grasped her by the hand for the victory of justice. In gratitude for his taking hold of her and giving her life to do his work, she responds wholeheartedly. Now the first four followers of Jesus become five in number.
-Megan McKenna On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
- Isaiah 40:28-31
Jesus Heals Peter's Mother-in-law, Chora Museum, Byzantine Mosaic, detail
Meditation Two (insight) a deserted place
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. -Mark 1:35
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. ... In true prayer, although every silent moment remains the same, every moment is a new discovery of a new silence, a new penetration into that eternity in which all things are always new. We know, by fresh discovery, the deep reality that is our concrete existence here and now and in the depths of that reality we receive from the Father light, truth, wisdom and peace. These are the reflection of God in our souls which are made to His image and likeness.
-Thomas Merton 1915-1968 Thoughts in Solitude
Meditation Three (integration) on the way
He answered, "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." Mark 1:38
(on leaving the desert) And so I found myself back in the world, in the midst of all the confusions, surrounded by my fellow men and women. ...Humanity too is an absolute, and you must seek, love, and serve human beings just as you seek, love, and serve God. Jesus let us in no doubt about this inexorable and simultaneous movement into the two dimensions, the horizontal and the vertical.
The closer you come to God as you ascend the slopes of contemplation, the greater grows your craving to love human beings on the level of action. The perfection of men and women on earth consists in the integration, vital and authentic, of our love for God and our love for human beings.
-Carlo Carretto 1910-1988 In Search of the Beyond (quoted from Carlo Carretto: Essential Writings, Robert Ellsberg)
The Last Word
Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.
-Miguel de Unamuno 1864-1936
...but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. -2 Corinthians 12:9
It is in my weakness that God finds me and transforms me. (“Where you stumble, that's where your treasure lies,” said Joseph Campbell noting myths and fairytales conveying age-old wisdom.) Perhaps because in weakness I'm vulnerable enough to make room for God. Life is beautiful and exciting and interesting and I'm ambitious and curious and reckless.* But every tragedy I've survived (I haven't survived them all, parts of me lie dead with grief, no resurrection stirring yet) - every tragedy has given me a gift.
God didn't cause my griefs. I caused most of them, co-created them, or naively set myself up for them. Some griefs come simply with the aching beauty of life and some from genetic randomness. God didn't cause Peter's mother-in-law's illness. My guess is that she was up a bunch of nights with a passel of Peter's sick children (HE wasn't around to help, obviously) compromising her immune system. Or maybe something serious settled into her bones.
But something more than healing occurs when Jesus “grasps” her. The word used is the same as the word for Jesus' resurrection - he “raises her up”. She embodies the Easter mystery of resurrection and the Pentecost mystery of apostleship - of service. Her home, 2,000 years later, is the site of documented healings. She's a mother of the church. A deacon. A template of holiness.
Had she not been sick and then healed, she probably would have served Peter's friends in any case. But the transformation makes her a full participant in Jesus' ministry and ongoing mystery of the church. Her weakness becomes her strength, just as my weaknesses continue to create a meeting place for my recurringly impoverished soul and infinite Divine Love.
* I don't think any of my friends would call me “reckless”, exactly. But in retrospect I think some of the most “sane,” “expected,”and conventional decisions I've made in my life have been rather reckless, quite honestly.