Summary: Jesus and his disciples, including James and John, left the synagogue and went straight to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and as soon as Jesus arrived, he was told about her. He went to her, took her by t
We are in the latter part of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St Mark this week, and it’s a scene that I think would make very acceptable day-time television. It is very ’G’ rated.
This is not typical of the Gospel stories, despite what you might have heard. Mark’s Gospel in particular is about 50% crucifixion narrative, which is hardly a kid-friendly narrative. Even so, if the Biblical writers had added chapter titles to their stories, this one might have been entitled, “Jesus heals somebody’s mum”, and that’s basically what this passage is about.
Jesus heals somebody’s mum - specifically, Simon Peter’s partner’s mum - and this is followed by some more healings, after which there’s some praying, and after which Jesus moves on to another town to do some more teaching, healing and praying. It’s all very ‘G’ rated - all very acceptable for daytime TV.
Yet I think we know why this particular Gospel story of the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law has never featured highly in TV dramatisations of the Gospels, despite its apparent wholesomeness, and it’s because it would make relatively boring television. It’s not really a very exciting story.
Now I don’t want anybody to recoil at me using the word ‘boring’ in connection with the Bible, and I’m sure that ‘boring’ is never really the right way to describe a miraculous healing, but I appreciate too that for many of us who have been reading the Gospel stories on a regular basis for most of our lives, we do start to get a little desensitised to Jesus’ healing miracles after a while. The first healing we read about blew our minds, but after the 1000th miracle you do start to ask yourself, ‘I wonder why Mark bothered to include this one?’
With last week’s reading, it was obvious why Mark included it - the crazy guy roaming about the synagogue, screaming, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth” and carrying on until Jesus performed a rather spectacular exorcism on him. This week though it’s somebody’s mum in bed with a fever, and maybe it was a life-threatening deadly virus, but it could have equally been a touch of the flu, and Jesus’ healing of her, and the various other sick people who follow her, seems relatively unspectacular. Another miracle …
You may have heard of the Irish woman, pulled over by the police for driving erratically, and when the woman rolled down the window of the car the officer could immediately smell alcohol. “Have you been drinking?”, the officer asks. “Oh no”, says the woman, “not a drop”. “Then can I ask you what you’ve got in that flask ”, the officer asks. “Ah … that’s water”, she says. The officer reaches in, undoes the flask and takes a look for himself. “This appears to be wine”, he says. “Mother of God”, she says, “Another miracle!”
And I suspect that some of us are tempted to respond in a similar sort of way here: ‘Mother of God, another miracle‘. For Jesus was always performing miracles, and after a while they do seem a little routine, unless, of course, you are the one on the receiving end, in which case no miracle is routine.
Most of you will remember, I think, that I had my own somewhat miraculous if unspectacular healing experience at the end of last year, where I spent two weeks in hospital and where both the medical staff and I certainly reached a point where nobody was sure whether I was still going to be moving when I eventually left the hospital! As one rather frank, young Chinese intern said to me, “We try everything on you. We don’t know what wrong with you!”
And then all of a sudden they did work out what was wrong with me - an illness normally reserved only for intravenous drug users - and just as quickly as I had gone down into fever and helplessness, so was I raised back to my feet!
Fantastic … for me. But for the staff at the hospital, another miracle, and when the annals of that great hospital are eventually committed to history in some great multi-volumed tome, I do not expect that the story of my particular healing will rate a mention, which brings me back to my initial question: why did Mark, the Gospel writer, bother recording this story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, who was running a temperature until she met Jesus?
It wasn’t because it was a particularly spectacular event, but I suspect that it might have been largely because it is so ordinary, and because the healing of this ordinary person was sort of archetypal in the mind of the Gospel writer - paradigmatic of the way Jesus works with all of us ordinary people. In other words, I think Mark has included this story because we can all see something of ourselves in this story