Reflections on the Lectionary

Article excerpt

Sunday, February 8 Mark 1:29-39

NO ONE KNOWS HER name. She may have been widowed, for she rived with two younger men who were not her sons. Their boyish enthusiasms might have made her laugh. It's also pleasant to think that her daughter had inherited her features--whether she was stocky, or had a slender build and expressive eyes. Very likely she worked hard at chopping firewood and salting fish, helping to feed the household, watching her grandchildren. But one day she could do none of that, for she was sick in bed with a fever. Her daughter would have been nearby, applying a damp cloth to her forehead. All we can do is imagine these details, because we know strangely little about her.

Everyone knows Simon Peter's name. No one knows hers, even though what happened to her had a profound effect on Simon. She was on the verge of a major moment--for all of us. The Christian church was born with Simon's mother-in-law.

We probably haven't thought enough about the family relationships behind the early church. The disciples Simon Peter and Andrew were brothers, as were James and John. Jesus had several brothers. Several women named Mary seem to have had an unusually close relationship. Even Paul, for all his irascibility, brought relatives into the faith. The early church was very much a family affair, which makes sense, because even today it grows through relationships, one person at a time.

But let's get back to Simon's mother-in-law, who lay in a dangerous state, utterly helpless, dehydrated and delirious. Then Jesus came into her house--a brave and loving thing to do; a very familiar thing to do. He risked ritual uncleanness; risked catching her illness. It was the sort of thing a family member might do.

He took her by the hand and lifted her up. The very next sentence tells us her remarkable response. According to Mark, "she began to serve." The verb is diekonei, and it tells us that in that instant, the church began. It was Simon's mother-in-law who first responded as so many others would, profoundly moved by the great change in her life. She was the first deacon, in the sense of becoming a servant out of reciprocal love.

Some would argue that this healing simply returned her to a place of subjugation in a patriarchal society, but it sounds to me as if she gave thanks. Her rife had been saved. At least on that day, her everyday tasks were transformed and became miraculous.

The meal she served that night was like the meal that Martha and Mary would serve after Jesus saved their brother Lazarus. …