After spending a weekend examining roles and identities of women, and reflecting on the repercussions of oppression, when I turn to the Biblical text, I have to admit I'm once again looking at it with new eyes. Even though I have had an awareness of how the oppression of women and other "outsiders" has affected my interpretation and understanding of the Bible, to have such an intense experience has, without a doubt, shaped how I'm reading and interpreting this Sunday's lectionary texts. Prior to the weekend workshop, I was planning to preach on demons (partly because I felt "cheated" from the Sunday before). But now, I'm so attracted to the story of Simon's mother-in-law, that I feel I need to give voice to that element of the gospel.
In the reading for Sunday (Mark 1:29-39), Jesus is busy! He's operating on a schedule that has him here, there and everywhere. The gospel text picks up (probably) in the afternoon of the Sabbath...as soon as they left the synagogue. And where do Jesus and his disciples go? To Simon's house. There Jesus encounters the mother-in-law. We don't know very much about her, except that she is ill with a fever. We don't know how old she is, what her personality is like or even how strong her faith might (or might not) be. She doesn't ask or beg or plead for healing. Jesus simply extends his hand to the woman and lifts her up. In this simple action a lot is going on. So let's spend some time with this action.
Jesus extends his hand and touches the woman. Typical Jesus...going against all the society "norms". He touches a woman that he isn't connected with through marriage or family. In Biblical times, women were only supposed to be touched by their families; not strangers. So right there, Jesus is breaking down not only cultural norms, but for future readers and hears of this text, Jesus is pointing out that God's healing love isn't just for the dominant culture or those on the "inside"...it's for everyone.
After he takes her hand, Jesus raises the woman up. The Greek word used for this action is "egeire" meaning "to get up, to raise up". It is the same word that the writer of Mark will use for resurrection. Now think about that for a minute! Jesus raises up the woman. He resurrects her. Her healing means new life.
So what does she do with this healing? The text tells us that once the fever leaves her, she serves those in the house. Some feminist scholars read this as a statement of oppression...that she's healed so she can do "women's work". And while I do not dismiss that response, I think we have to look deeper at the text. It doesn't say she goes about cleaning, mopping, baking bread, or taking care of children. It simply says she serves them. The word here is "diakonia" which we have come to understand as "deacon". And a deacon is a servant minister. Perhaps she does bake bread and prepare a meal for Jesus and the disciples. Hospitality was the normative, and she's doing this ministry as a deacon...someone who has received new life and is therefore extending her hand in service. Perhaps we should reclaim this mother-in-law as a model for our own discipleship.
The fact that this healing takes place in a home is also significant and worth noting. It is in the everyday places and events that sacredness exists. We don't simply come to church on Sundays for our weekly shot of the holy...we come to be nourished, healed and lifted up, so that we can be open to the sacredness that is all around us. When Simon later suggests to Jesus that he return to the house to continue healing those who have come, Jesus says that it's time to move on. Jesus understood that his teaching and healing wasn't about being stagnate and staying in one place, but rather, spreading the message...missionary work.
But he didn't leave the people without any hope. Through his teaching and healing, he had not only shared the good news, but had empowered those around him to share it with others. Who knows, maybe he paraphrased the psalm from this morning "God gathers up the outcasts, heals the broken hearted, lifts up the downtrodden and takes care of us all". And the mother-in-law was still there. She could share her story of healing and wholeness as a way of healing those around her. She could be a servant minister, a deacon, to them by proclaiming the good news. This is what we are called to do too. As disciples, men and women, young and old, we are called to be servants to each other, to share our stories of healing and love, and to raise each other up.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.