Epiphany 5 Year B
February 5, 2018
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
Some of you know – however, this may be news to others - that I am receiving treatment for an autoimmune disease called dysautonomia. What that means, in simple terms, is that my own immune system has gone rouge and for the past year or two, has been attacking my autonomic nervous system. Ah yes . . . that means that all the stuff in my body that should be working, automatically, must now be regulated either through machinery, like my pacemaker, or medication.
Right now, in an attempt to stop its progression, part of my treatment regimen includes receiving IV infusions of IgG, which is one of our body’s immuno proteins, every other week. These treatments begin early in the day, by 7:30am. The infusion process isn’t finished until around 10 hours later, around 5 or 6pm. Suffice it to say, they don’t make me feel good.
But even as I am cared for on these treatment days by
*my husband, who tends to my every need, manages the household, gives me the space to camp out in the living room and the quiet to sleep off and on;
*my nurse, who gingerly deals with needles and medication, and dutifully watches over all of my vital signs;
*and even by my puppy, who somehow knows that infusion days are NOT days for play and long walks;
when I am unhooked and freed from the IV line and the drugs that fill them, the first thing I want to do – and I know this sounds strange - is begin cooking dinner for my family. Believe me, it’s not because Bunker isn’t willing or capable of cooking – he is and he does – and it’s not because there aren’t plenty of people who have lovingly offered to bring dinner over for our family – they have and they do. But it’s because, on those days, if at all possible for me, the most loving thing I feel like I can do – the greatest gift I can offer . . . the way I can say “thanks” for them and for my life - is simply to create a dinner for my family to enjoy. In some small way, that dinner becomes a testimony to healing – to a miracle, even – to the joy of hope and wholeness that is God’s desire for all of us.
I think it’s sometimes easy to overlook miracles like this, the miracles that unfold in our own homes. Mercifully, for me, author and artist, Jan Richardson put my feelings and experience into words. She writes about how we often take it for granted that on a daily basis, several times a day, there will be something there in the refrigerator or the pantry which will fill our hunger. And how we even take for granted that we will be able to reach for it or, in my case, how we can transform some of it into a meal that will nourish and be enjoyed by our family. These are the times and the places where the mundane gives way to the miraculous.
Today’s gospel takes us straight into an ordinary home, one just like yours or mine, into the home of Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Jesus has come straight from the synagogue, where he cast out some unclean spirits or demons. But as soon as he enters the house, he learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. The tenderness - I envision - with which Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up is healing in and of itself. But on an even deeper level, the way Jesus intentionally crosses into her condition, her realm, her world is healing too.
Here we see the domestic Jesus, the intimate Jesus, crossing from the house of worship into the home of Simon. Then standing at her bedside, Jesus offers his hand – and with that, demonstrates that there is no sphere that he does not enter, no suffering that is beneath him to heal, no place where he doesn’t want wholeness and peace. Jesus makes it clear that his healing power is present in every realm - - the home, no less than the synagogue, the fevering/flu-ish woman no less than the man possessed by a demon. There is no place, no person unworthy of a miracle.
The response then, by Simon’s mother-in-law is that she gets up and begins to serve Jesus and his companions. Now, other stories of healing in the Gospel describe the recipient offering loud praise and thanksgiving for what Jesus has done. But in this story, the woman needs no words. Her gratefulness and her testimony are offered through her service, through ministering to Jesus and his companions in this most basic, and bodily way . . . kind of like cooking dinner for my family.
I think that for us – and we discussed this in our Bible study this week – it is easy to see this as some sort of denigration of women - or just “women’s work.” She got up and served them. But – and I can base this on my own experience of illness – I think that minimizes the grace that is found in this scene. Rather, the mother-in-law’s service unveils the holiness in the everyday-ness of life at home.
It is interesting to me that Mary Ann Tolbert, in The Women’s Bible Commentary (Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe, eds.), points out that the word used in today’s Gospel, the NRSV version of the Bible, as “serve” (from the Greek root diakoneo, related to the word we use for deacon), is the same word that is used to describe what the angels do for Jesus at the end of his forty days in the wilderness. Some translators, however, will say that the angels “ministered” to Jesus, making it sound much more important or sacramental, while on the other hand they refer to the woman as simply – and subserviently - “serving” him. Tolbert writes, “By using the same word for the action of the angels and the action of the healed woman, the author of Mark obviously equated their level of service to Jesus. What the angels were able to do for Jesus in the wilderness, the woman whose fever has fled now does for him in her home.” Tolbert goes on to note that the door of the woman’s house “becomes the threshold for healing for all in the city who are sick.”
A powerful image, that threshold. So think about it, can you/do you notice the miracles that take place in the ordinariness of your own home? And, if so, in what ways do we respond to the miracles in those places where our lives unfold? No doubt, ordinary miracles – like cooking dinner for the family - are hiding out in the rhythm of our days, and they call us to not only see and participate in them, but also to respond and witness to God’s presence through them. But rest assured, wherever you live, Christ blesses you there.
May you see and know Jesus’ blessing, and know that it is . . . well, . . . miraculous. Amen.
*Giving thanks for the miracle of Jan Richardson’s blog, the Painted Prayerbook, and for the way she poetically describes my own experience of healing. I have used her words throughout. Truly, that which is personal is universal! http://paintedprayerbook.com/2009/02/04/the-domestic-god/)