5th Sunday after Epiphany—Year B—Feb 8, 2015
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Last week, the Bishop mentioned that he, his father-in-law, and I (along with many others) had traveled together in Israel-Palestine, and had even walked on the spot of the 1st century synagogue where Jesus healed the man with the unclean spirit.
From the synagogue, this morning’s reading tells us that Jesus immediately entered into Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. Now, you will notice when reading Mark, that the word “immediately” occurs quite often. The writer of Mark likes to keep things moving and tends to report fewer details than the other gospels, including only the very important. But this “immediately” is not just for dramatic effect. It in fact communicates how close knit the community of Capernaum is. I did not fully appreciate this until my first visit to Capernum. Just like when we visited with Bishop, we started by checking out the remains of the synagogue. Upon exiting, we took twenty or so steps, past one row of small homes, and we immediately arrived at what we are pretty sure is Peter’s mother-in-law’s house.
Now you might ask how we know this? Or at least why we think so, as there is no 1st century mailbox to read the name off of. That is a good question. We know from the archeological remains, because we can tell that the house was converted into a church very early on, expanded, and then bigger and bigger churches were built on top on the site over the centuries. Most holy sites we visit in the Holy Land became holy sites when the crusaders built churches, but the church at this site, was built during Jesus time. The early the worship at a specific spot, the more sure we are of it’s authenticity.
This certainty and personal experience of the “immediately” is one of the reasons I love this story of Peter’s mother-in-law being healed so much. I would even venture to say that it is one of my favorite stories.
Some people dislike the story because they think that it is anti-feminist, because the woman is the one who serves, and is even pulled out of bed to do so. But it is all about context—in the 1st century, that is how women participated in society, gained honor, and lived out their vocation.
Although I consider myself a feminist, and I hate being forced into gender roles, I still really enjoy being a hostess and entertaining in my home. I get joy from taking care of others, setting the atmosphere for a successful social engagement. I take pride from that work.
We do not know for sure that Peter’s mother-in-law felt the same way about her role in society, about her serving. But there is no hesitation upon being healed. She is raised from bed and immediately begins to serve them.
She is freed from her illness &
freed to be part of the community again
freed to live out her vocation
freed to share hospitality
freed for service
Jesus has his role to teach, preach, and heal. The disciples are slowly learning and will soon do the same. Similarly, Peter’s mother-in-law fulfills her role, contributes to Jesus’ ministry (God’s work) in her own way, by serving.
Today’s early readings are all about how great God is. How big God’s reach and power is. The grand plans that God has in mind for the world. And this is of course true, but there is also more to God. God is so great, but also so close, so specific in God’s plan. Not only does God think about the big picture, but also stoops to heal a specific person—that they might be restored to the community, live a life full of worth, and contribute to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
God loves us so much that God keeps track of how many hairs we have on our head. God claimed us when we were still in our mother’s wombs. God proclaims (through us and our baptisms) that we are beloved daughters and sons. Jesus died on the cross so that we might be free from sin and death and share in his resurrection and eternal life.
So how can do anything but get up serve in response?
Now, we can’t all (individually or even collectively) do it all, and we aren’t expected to—notice how Jesus moves on to neighboring towns before all are healed and done searching for him.
We can’t do it without taking time to care for ourselves as well—even Jesus took some alone time, some Sabbath, time from prayer on his own to be refreshed and recharged.
But we can all do out part. We are all God’s children, important parts of the community of creation. So now that you are freed from…what are you being freed for? Jesus extends his hand to you in the midst of your hardships and dark valleys. What are you being raised to?