By The Rev. Sherry Deets
5 Epiphany – February 8, 2015
Last week we watched as Jesus’ first action in Mark’s Gospel is to cast out an unclean spirit and interpreted that as God’s commitment to stand against all the powers that keep us from abundant life. We talked about breaking through boundaries. The boundaries that keep us from abundant life. This week that pattern continues. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and she begins to serve them.
It’s the “she begins to serve them” part that grabs my attention. We don’t know what the man did after Jesus cast out his unclean spirits, but this week we hear that Peter’s mother-in-law “begins to serve them” after Jesus healed her.
Jesus frees Peter’s mother-in-law from illness. Jesus freed the man last week from unclean spirits. He frees crowds of people from disease and possession as well. We often talk about how Jesus frees us from the many things that harass us. Freedom from sin, of course. But also freedom from various manifestations of sin we might name as fear, loss, despair, insecurity, and all manner of things that plague us.
But there is another dimension of the Gospel: that Jesus frees us not only from things that seek to oppress us, but also for a life of purpose, meaning, and good works. (Yes, good works, not those things that we do in the vain hope of justifying ourselves before God or others, but rather those things that we do as a response to the Gospel stemming from a sense of joy, love, and freedom.)
In today’s passage, Peter’s mother-in-law is restored to her community and vocation. I realize we may be troubled by the fact that the moment she’s well she gets up to serve Jesus and his disciples. (I mean, goodness, couldn’t Peter have pitched in to give her a little more time to recuperate.) But as Sarah Henrich wrote so beautifully in her commentary on this passage a few years ago, [I]llness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them. Peter’s mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is a classic healing story. But let’s go back to the part where she begins to serve immediately after she is healed. Is she healed so that she can serve? Did she want to? Is that all she could do? Didn’t she have any other aspirations? If you are brought back from the edge, from almost death, or from the brink of what you thought your life had to be, shouldn’t there be something else for you, some sort of new vocation, new career, new identity? She served them? As if that was what she was expected to do. As if that was the only thing she thought she could do. As if that was the only thing she could do?
But, what if the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law was bringing her back to be the mother she always was and that she always wanted to be? And in being brought back to who she was, she became a disciple, called to minister, to serve, like the angels did for Jesus in the wilderness and like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served but to serve?
Have you ever felt like God has brought you back from the brink … to yourself? That you were called back from a place that was not fully you, to be you?
Jesus lifted her up. What if resurrection is being raised up to be who you always were and were always meant to be? That it won’t be hilltop mansions, driving expensive cars or bathrooms you can play baseball in, but the radical, emotional, incredible feeling of being you. That being raised up is not just some sort of spiritual future but your present reality, here and now, to live you. Your mind, spirit, body, everything together, everything that you were always meant to be. The story of Simon’s mother-in-law tells us that God does not call us to be something we are not but is in the business of restoring us to who we really are.
Of course, most of the time it’s easier to live on the brink, to surround yourself with people and projects and performances that allow you to pretend this is you, that let you avoid the feelings and frustrations and fears that come with acknowledging what is important in your life. It is so hard to live who you are. To paraphrase a quote, “The world is full of people who will go through their whole lives and not actually live one day. I do not intend on being one of them.” I think a lot of us spend a good part of our lives living on the periphery of ourselves.
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law (and I so wish she had a name) is God being, living who God is. God called Jesus to be who he was. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Jesus didn’t go around pretending to be something that he wasn’t. “Please, please, let this cup pass. My God, my God, why have you forsaken ME?” are not laments about what should be but the truth about what is.
Being human is to what God committed God’s self and therefore, being who we are is what God wants us to be. God brings us back from the brinks of our lives, from despair, from disease, from desperation, to live. Because then, maybe, we will actually know, feel, and get that we are a part, that God needs us to be a part, of what’s at stake for God when God decided to become one of us.
Jesus will take you by the hand. God will raise you up. When you are brought back from the edge, from the brink, your question will be that of Simon’s mother-in-law, “What am I doing here?” And what will your answer be? “I am ______.” You fill in the blank. That’s who God wants me to be. This is who I am. You are a child of God. Amen.
Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.
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