Today’s gospel reading picks up where last week’s reading ended. Last week Jesus went into the synagogue on the sabbath and began teaching, and everyone was amazed. Jesus cast a demon out of a man and, once again, everyone was amazed. At the end of last week’s gospel reading, we are told that his fame began to spread throughout Galilee. And this is where today’s reading begins – “as soon as they left the synagogue” Mark writes.
Jesus and four of his disciples (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) leave the synagogue and go to Simon’s house. Simon’s mother was sick with a fever but when Jesus takes her by the hand, the fever leaves her. She begins to serve them. By that evening, the whole town has heard about Jesus, and they all gather outside Simon’s home, bringing with them those who need to be cured of all sorts of illnesses. This is all one day in Jesus’ life.
Let’s address what may be on the mind of many of us. The first thing Peter’s mother-in-law does when she is healed is to serve Jesus and the other men. True, there were very specific, rigid gender roles in Jesus’ day; we don’t need to pretend otherwise. I do want to mention, though, a few ways of looking at this part of the story that might be faithful to a larger picture. First, many stories that recount the healings accomplished by Jesus end with some evidence that health and wholeness have returned. Her return to normal duties is proof of true healing. Second, throughout the gospels, a life of discipleship is marked by service. Jesus’ own life is one of service. Perhaps this story is pointing toward an authentic life of discipleship. Third, it was the place of the matriarch in a family to be in charge of food and hospitality to guests. Thus, some argue, when Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, she is restored her to her place in society and the community.
This is characteristic of the healing stories we find in scripture. In Jesus’ lifetime, there were not, of course, antibiotics, and many infections had no cure. In addition, some illnesses were thought to be caused by demons. Therefore, when people became ill, they were often ostracized from the community for fear of contagion or demons. To be healed, then, means more than being physically well. Perhaps more importantly, when people are healed, they are restored to the community. There is social, as well as physical, healing. They re-enter relationships and society. That’s why touch plays a role in many of Jesus’ healings, as in today’s passage when Jesus takes Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand. Touch is symbolic of relationship.
Perhaps now more than ever we realize what it means to not be able to gather in community – to not be with friends, family, and our community at a huge dinner or at a sports game or a parade. It is difficult to travel to be with even close family members. And saddest of all, patients are dying in hospitals without any family by their side. If ever we can understand how devastatingly isolating illness can be, now is the time.
But people are coming up with creative solutions. We see family members bringing chairs and sitting outside a loved one’s window, holding up signs that read “We love you” or Happy Birthday” or “Get well soon.” Still others – in need of touch and relationship – have hung sheets of plastic in the doorway. By making sleeves of plastic and attaching them to the large plastic sheet, family members are able to slip their arms into the sleeves and hug grandparents or others whose risk of serious illness from Covid-19 is high. At Neighbors Table, there is a system in place that allows for those in need to pick up hot meals safely. Our volunteers at Neighbors Table also deliver meals around to various homes, staying long enough to exchange a few words with those to whom food is brought. Those words mean as much, if not more, than the food that is delivered. True healing involves being restored to communities; it involves relationship.
One thing to note in Jesus’ ministry is that he doesn’t stay in the synagogue and wait for people to come to him for healing; instead, he goes out into the places where people are and ministers to them there – for example, Simon’s home. This doesn’t mean he never spends time alone; we see in today’s reading that he took time for prayer. After all, a full Christian life holds both contemplation and action. But Jesus does not shy away from action. At the end of today’s gospel reading, he travels throughout Galilee, meeting people where they are, proclaiming the gospel, casting out demons, and restoring people to community.
Magdalene Serenity House in Fayetteville is described as a “healing sanctuary serving women who have experienced trauma, sexual exploitation, addiction, and incarceration by providing opportunities for community, and paths to flourish.” It’s a residential program where up to eight women at a time can live for two years, with no fee. Through partnerships with community resources, they receive counseling, medical care, job preparation, life skills training, etc. One resident describes how Magdalene Serenity House changed her life:
Magdalene Serenity House … gave me the chance to stand on my own two feet again. I’ve got 2 years and 11 months sober and have gained full time employment. opened a checking account and purchased a car. I get to have regular visitation with my kids with the goal of regaining my custody. I am currently working on repairs at my house and purchasing the things I need to furnish it and will soon be going home. Magdalene Serenity House and its staff have given me a second chance at a normal life.
People at Magdalene Serenity House are being restored to their communities. It all began by noticing people on the margins of our society and meeting them where they are with a love that heals.
Who are the people in our community who are isolated – be it from physical illness, mental illness, poverty, addiction, incarceration, or just because they are different? If we are to be like Jesus, then what are some creative ways that (even in the midst of a pandemic) we can reach out to people who are ostracized in one way or another and help facilitate community connections? This is a work of healing and wholeness – for all of us. And if Jesus’ life tells us anything, it tells us that we will need to leave the comfort of our church buildings and engage people where they are – knowing that anywhere we go, the Holy Spirit is already there.
 Magdalene Serenity House, Home – Magdalene Serenity House (lovehealsnwa.org).