5th Sunday Ordinary time, 2-4-18
Job7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147: 1-6, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, is credited as one of the main points of emergence for the feminist movement. She encouraged many other women to enter professional jobs and employment in business, industry and government.
It was a seismic shift for the American culture which produced a broad range of response. Some screamed that a mother taking young children to day care was an evil rejection of nature and responsibility. Some demanded that all women must be employed to find their dignity and purpose. Women had to find a balance between the extremes of being limited in their options or trying to lead both the life of a corporate leader and the mom who did everything.
So today we hear the story of Simon/ Peter’s mother-in-law. It tells us that Peter is not the simple fisherman. He has a wife. There is no mention of children, but the idea of Peter, Jr., drifts thru our minds. Is this a peaceful house or is the mother-in-law having some kind of stress reaction to Peter’s coming into the house with a bunch of hungry men? We could construct lots of different scenarios, but this is a reading from the Gospel of Mark, and Mark tells his stories in a straightforward way. We will not be graced with more details.
However, we do know that Jesus is “immediately” told that Mrs. Peter’s mother is sick with a fever. Here we meet the first problem with culture. We shrug, and say, “So?” Put her in the car, take her down to the Minute clinic, get her some antibiotics and she’ll be fine by tomorrow, right? Wrong, of course. This is 30 AD. No car, no urgent care, no diagnosis, no pharmaceuticals. Just fear of what might be wrong, fear of long term disabling decline.
And Jesus “grasped her hand and helped her up”. The fever was gone and “she waited on them”. Under our liberated breath, we mutter, “Couldn’t they have just gone to the store or drive thru and gotten something to eat? Did he heal her just so she could fix them dinner?”
Well, as harsh as it sounds, it is a reasonable question. Why did Jesus heal this woman? And knowing that a horde of people who were physically and psychologically sick were about to gather outside the house, why would Jesus submit this woman to having “the whole town gathered at her door”? To find the answer, we must put on the brakes, back up, and reset the clock. One of the least productive things we can do to a good Bible story is to interpret it in the light of today instead of understanding what was happening in that day, in time past. That is how to understanding what Jesus’ intent was with the Mother-in-law, and with us.
In that day, a woman worked from sun up to sun set to feed and clothe the family. From growing the food to preparing it to keeping the fire going to hauling water, to raising sheep for wool, weaving cloth, sewing clothing, washing – you get the idea, sort of. I doubt if any of us have ever had to create food, clothing, and shelter, everything, from scratch. It is over-whelming to a 21st century suburban middle class American when you think about it.
The point is that women then had no other options available to them. And did you miss the fact that Peter’s mother-in-law would be a widow, or she would not be living in his house? She was totally dependent on her family, and without them she would die, quite literally, of starvation or lack of shelter. In exchange for life itself, she is more than eager to take on the tasks of the household and take pride in using all those skills she learned through the years.
But she was sick, and suddenly not an asset but a burden. She was terrified. Was Jesus restoring her to health for his convenience? No! Not at all. He restored her to her place in society, a place where her dignity was secure and she could be admired for her skills. She was freed to be able to provide hospitality to her guests and the community; she was eager to share this with the whole village. She, an older woman, was the center of a miracle, the first sick person to be healed by Jesus, the example that everyone would remember. She was no longer just a widow whose prime had passed; now, she was someone.
Jesus continued to cure, to heal, to restore the sick to their places of wholeness. That is an idea that transcends culture and time. In our day, being productive in a job offers people independence and a boost to self-image. When someone is released to go back to work after an injury or illness, once again enjoy their place in society and feel they are “part of life”.
The same is true for spiritual healing. In fact, we could talk about Jesus’ time on earth by thinking about redemption and restoration. His death on the cross was a “one-time forever victory” which redeemed everyone. He “saved” us and opened a way to God’s love and forgiveness. His teaching and actions restored us to how God created us to be, and he commanded us to continue that restoration with others.
It is the first responsibility of the Church to share the message of the Good News of Easter with people. Discipleship begins when people discover the freeing power of redemption, by being re-connected with God’s forgiveness. Worship and prayer are not an obligation; instead, worship & prayer are the natural language of those who are redeemed.
The second responsibility of the Church, that is us, is the work of restoring the sick, the addicted, the poor, the marginalized, the lost, to wholeness. We call that outreach, or mission. Restoration is also called the “coming of the kingdom”. If “saving the world” is redemption, then “changing the world” is restoration. Deep love and dynamic caring are not a social norm; instead they are the natural behavior of the restored.
Those are big ideas, but crucial ideas to the growth and success of Holy Trinity and any Christian community. I will be sharing concrete and practical information about them with you in the weeks ahead. So, remember what Jesus did after he healed this widow – he prayed. Please pray for our church that it may be a place of redemption and restoration.