My mother-in-law, Rick’s mom, is an amazing woman. She has enough love in her heart for the whole world. She’s worked hard her entire adult life, often working overnights in restaurants as a waitress or a manager. She has been a caterer, and has been known to bake Christmas cookies and cakes for the people in her building. Food has not only been her bread and butter, but food is also the means by which she shows her love and finds her worth. And we love her dearly. We never expect her to prepare a meal for us, but, well you know, she does anyway. She’s made garlic toast and roast beef hash, and a dish only a son could like, Cedric’s casserole. Butterfinger bars, pink squirrels, Russian teacakes…. You try to say, no, you know you really don’t have to, and it rings hollow, because really, she has to, it’s who she is. She is whole and complete; she is whom she truly was created to be when she is in her kitchen.
Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And the first thing she does is to get up and serve them. This is a story that has always made me mad. No rest, no recovery, no getting back at things slowly, the fever left her, and she began to serve them. On the surface it seems like the perpetuation of stereotypes. And then I am reminded of my mother-in-law, and I remember that what they share is that their wholeness, their health, their being fully who they are, is tied directly to their love of serving. When my mother in law is sick and cannot putz around her kitchen baking this and that, she is not herself. What Jesus did here was more than just heal her, if that isn’t enough, he put things right, he restores the order of things, he makes whole what is broken, he brings her to herself, he gives her a new life. The radical nature of this story is not necessarily that Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, and not necessarily that she served, the radical nature of this story is Jesus’ capacity to restore her wholeness, to restore her value and worth, to actually give her new life.
That’s what casting out demons and healing is about with Jesus. Jesus heals a leper, Jesus heals a paralytic, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Jesus heals a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, and a child who has died. It is not just removing disease, as if that isn’t enough, but these are stories about Jesus’ power to bring people into a new relationship, to bring people into right relationship with himself and with others. These are stories about making whole what is broken, these are stories about bringing healing into a fragmented world, these are stories about this absolutely new thing that God is up to. These are stories about making the dead alive.
The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. That is not to say that the life you live will be perfect, whole and perfect are nothing alike. Perfect is what we see set before us as a standard by those who can sell us something to make us seem perfect. Perfect is what we will be if we buy the right skin lotion, perfect is what we will be if we buy the right house, perfect is what we will be if we marry the right person, or play the right game or have the right bank account or life insurance or whatever. The harder we work for perfect, the more frustrated, depressed, angry, and resentful we become.
The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. When Rick and I were married, we were given the chalice that was used for Holy Communion that day. On our 10th anniversary, we brought the chalice to church with us to use at communion in celebration of our anniversary. As I was getting out of the car that day, I dropped the chalice. We picked up the pieces, and I set about putting the cup back together. It is whole, but surely not perfect. It is now filled with 33 years of growth, of pain, of happiness, of heartache, of joy and of sorrow. We have lived together through pain and suffering, death and resurrection. We are not perfect, but in Jesus’ love we are whole.
It is this Good News that we must proclaim to the world. Perfect people have no time for church, broken and hurting people, you and I, come to be made whole, come to be restored to fullness of life, come to be made new in the waters of baptism, come to be nourished by the bread and wine of communion, come to see Jesus in one another, come to be made wholly who we are created to be.
Jesus is a good Jew, he goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, but then he goes and breaks the law by healing on the Sabbath. What Mark is trying to show us is that the Word of God, God in the flesh, is active and growing. Jesus knows that there is a danger in people knowing that he is the Word of God, God in the flesh. Jesus knows that it is also dangerous for him to neglect his own relationship with the one who gives him life, so he goes to pray. Wholeness involves prayer, into our brokenness comes the Word, alive and active, quiet and contemplative.
Jesus was fully who he was created to be as he went about healing, casting out demons, turning over tables in the temple, eating with sinners, welcoming the children. It was all in a days work for him, albeit hard work. And he too needed to regain his balance, find his center, kneel before his creator, and pray.
I don’t think the 1st century world in which Jesus lived is much different than the world in which we live. People are broken, disheartened, there is greed and there is idolatry. Through Jesus, God offers us healing and wholeness, through Jesus, God offers us the opportunity to be ourselves. Putting ourselves, like Jesus did, in the posture of prayer brings us to a place where we can hear the call to be ourselves, to be whole. Prayer is a place in which we find our relationship with God, prayer is a place in which we find ourselves.
Come and be healed, come and be who you are called to be, come, and find yourself.