I’ve been thinking about illness and wondering about its impact on many levels and how illness cuts us off from family, friends and community, depending on the severity and length of the illness.
Let us notice and reflect on the powerful scene occurring here, showing briefly how life-giving an encounter with Jesus can be. Mark tells the story with very few words (Mark 1:29 -30):
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.
Although the story is spare it adds to the drama Mark has been providing us since the beginning of his book, some of which we reflected on last week with the healing of man possessed by a demon. We were told then, and again today, Jesus was teaching with authority, proclaiming the good news in the synagogues across the region.
After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, we are told people brought to Jesus ‘all’ in the neighbourhood who are afflicted with illness or demonic possession, so that the ‘whole city’ comes to watch what Jesus will do (Mark 1:32).
Jesus is swift and efficient with his actions. There are no words, no prayer, no preparations by Jesus, he simply takes the woman by the hand and lifts her up, the fever leaves her and she is able to serve. Jesus does the same thing with Jairus’s daughter where he raises her from death rather than illness.
It is worth noting at this point in the story, it is the end of the sabbath day, and work is again permitted. This means Jesus has twice done what the Pharisees later call ‘not lawful’ on the sabbath (2:24), first by exorcising a man’s demon, and now healing a woman. Both who were considered unworthy and unclean.
Jesus frequently heals with little more than a word. Sometimes he seems not even to be in control of his own ability to restore wholeness. He asks: ‘Who touched me?’ when the woman with the haemorrhage draws on his healing power and whose life is transformed (5:30).
The liberation given with such healing for a woman who is at the mercy of her family, her son-in-law and her community, is profound; as she is one without power and authority. No one else has been able to heal her, and the fact Simon and Andrew take Jesus back to Simon’s house after he healed the man possessed by a demon speaks to their concern and fear.
And her response to this healing is to care for them, welcome and serve them with hospitality and generosity.
Let us know take a step back and think about those actions together.
What is it we do with others after experiencing Jesus’ gospel, his good news of salvation and the love of God for all people, men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and freeborn, for you and me? Paul reminded us of his response in the reading from Corinthians:
I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).
We know also Jesus’ preaching and his actions are inclusive of women; as he is inclusive of everyone. Remember the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to everyone.
He never sets out one way of acting for men and another for women. Whatever is right for men to do is right for women to do too from all races and backgrounds.
In a radical way the vision of the kingdom of God pervading Jesus’ teaching overturns unjust relations: as the Holy Spirit moves among us, the last shall be first and the first last, so that in the end a new kind of community may form.
For Simon and Andrew, their concern for this woman has them bringing Jesus to her and then stepping back and praying for a miracle. We need to remember how important this work is for us as Christians.
Our role, like Simon and Andrew, is to bring people to Jesus, and to trust and pray his transforming love and power will make a difference.
One of the reasons for the healing is to show Jesus has the ultimate power to overthrow demons, to cure the incurable, and give people life! People being healed is a sign the kingdom of God is available and open to all. It is a glimpse of the future God in Jesus brings to all of us.
It allows us also to recognise we are wrong-headed if we think only the healthy and wealthy are safe and blessed by God. In these stories, we see Jesus is not afraid to enter into places of sickness, confronting our demons, or standing in the darkness with us.
Jesus consistently welcomed the sick, those possessed by their demons, and those who are troubled to come to him and be healed. Jesus himself experiences suffering, torture and death on a cross in the company of thieves because of humanity’s weakness and wickedness. He is not absent in such places but is in our midst. God goes with us into the valley of death and onto resurrection and salvation.
God’s role in healing and in sickness is to raise us up into the fullness of life to which God calls us.
Simon’s mother-in-law’s illness is more than a physical experience, it disconnects her from the family and the community; it impacts on her ability to offer hospitality to those in her home. Jesus’ healing restores her and those in the crowd whom he healed afterwards, to right relationships in their community.
Mark’s purpose in writing this gospel, was to tell the beginning of the good news (1:1). Jesus embodies this good news as he brings it to the people in a way that will most engage with the people, with feeding, accepting, protecting, saving, preaching, loving and some with healing.
For this woman, her need for good health has shown her the good news. This man Jesus has seen her, recognised her suffering and the fullness of her humanity and raised her up to be with him in relationship with him in the kingdom of God.
And the woman’s response is immediate. She shows all of us as disciples here today, the response to an encounter with Jesus’ good news is instinctively to be grateful and to share the good news. Today we do the same through ministry.
The woman’s gratitude and thanks in this story was expressed through generous hospitality to family, friends and strangers, with her health restored.
It is how we respond today, setting up tables and providing meals, building and enabling spaces for people to gather, talk, learn and belong; teaching and praying, giving away prayer quilts and working in the Op Shop, donating and recycling, choosing to live simply, sharing without wasting the limited resources selfishly on ourselves as we care for and share in all God’s creation, while accepting and listening to all who come, as in these people, strangers and friends, Jesus is our neighbour who is here with us today.
This story is the first about a woman offering a grateful and loving response to hearing and experiencing the good news in an encounter with Jesus; we also know of the poor widow (12:41-44); the woman with the ointment 14:3-9; the women at the cross when all others had fled 15:40 -41; and the women at the tomb 16:1 along with the stories in the other gospels.
Mark’s stories affirm Jesus’s belief that everyone can make a contribution. We need to listen to the silent voices, the unassuming characters often glossed over, those who are not named and truly hear their stories. We need to ask ourselves always: what do we not see and what are we not hearing that will shift our understanding of Jesus and his kingdom? For as Isaiah said:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless (Isaiah 40:28-29).
And for all of us, it is worth asking ourselves, what it would be like for us to be that woman in such a position of powerlessness and helplessness; and what would such a gift feel like and what has it done for our lives that such a gift is given to us too by God with such loving kindness and personal concern for our wellbeing and what is our response to the whole of God’s creation and all of God’s people?
The Lord be with you.