The Mother-In-Law

Epiphany 5B, 2015, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church

Scripture appointed for the day found here

The Greek word Epiphany means manifestation or, in another attempt at definition, a sudden insight into the meaning of something.  So, in this season after the Epiphany of Christ to the magi, I have found myself asking the question

What insight follows our own encounter with the manifested Christ?  What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?  

And, lest you think I’m over-thinking things...we are actually supposed to get something out of our encounter with scripture...

So what do we get when we dig into today’s encounter with the manifested Christ?

She has no name.  Like so many of the other stories about women in scripture we find ourselves gathering at the bedside of a woman who has no name.  And, I find that irritating, I want her to have a name.  A name besides “Simon’s mother in law”, I want a name for her that reminds me to see her as her...I want her to have a voice, I want her to be greeted and lifted up when she is restored to wholeness.  I find myself moving beyond irritation and into a place of resignation...of course the first thing she does after being miraculously made well by the son of God is serve everyone...isn’t that what a nameless woman is supposed to do anyway?  


Perhaps I am alone in my irritation.  Perhaps, I am projecting my own “stuff” on this biblical woman.

My dad worked hard, forty hours a week that was more than forty most of the time.  He rose to work, and when he came home tended the animals on our own makeshift farm.  Work upon work.  

And, my mom, home with the kids--tending the animals, cleaning the house, volunteering at our schools and driving us to events and activities.  Work upon work.  

And, when my mom was sick, when the mental illness none of us understood--the malaise that garnered little sympathy because she looked “fine”--when that illness enveloped her, it meant the house wasn’t cleaned and the laundry undone...and that’s when the arguments would begin.  

I go to work, it’s your job to cook and clean the house.  I go to work, you’re supposed to...I go to work...

Your job.  In my father’s family the men worked and the women cleaned.  In my father’s family, young men joined the military and then came home to take care of the women.  The women who cleaned, and cooked, birthing the children and tending to everyone’s upon work.  

So perhaps I project too much into this story of miraculous healing.  Perhaps, my own story gets in the way of this one.  

Perhaps Simon’s Mother-in-law was lying there, wishing, just wishing for a miracle that would allow her to make dinner for everyone in the house.  

But, allow me to continue my projection.  In her illness, the house had fallen apart--unswept floors and pots left sitting long after the last scrapings of the meal had been dished onto the last of the plates.  The rooms carried the mustiness of closed windows and unaired bedding.  

They needed her--she was needed, she was essential to the running of the household, to the wholeness of the family.  How many folk do we know who when ill long to “just get back to work” have things return to normal, to be back in the midst of the everyday tasks, no matter how tedious, those tasks that tells us that everything is as it should be that we can carry on and that it’s going to be okay.  

And, so restoration to health often means restoration to a life that is pleasantly or even unpleasantly “normal”.    When I served in the children’s hospital, parents of children with chronic disease were cautioned by social workers and child life specialists to keep things “normal” that having to do chores and homework and follow the rules, would provide a sense of stability and normalcy to their family--a stability their child, healthy or not, craved.  

And, so it strikes me that being able to serve was perhaps exactly what Simon’s mother-in-law wished.  To be whole again, to be able to serve in the way she and all those she loved had become accustomed.  

And, in being healed she re-enters society as a servant to the son of God.  Allow me to repeat myself.  She is the very first servant to the son of God. 

Scholars make note, that as servant to the Christ she becomes the very first deacon of what shall become the church. Allow me to introduce the nameless woman who serves as deacon to Christ...Simon’s mother-in-law.

the Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez,, the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in Cuba, connects this passage to the history of  the early church.  The early church, the ecclesia or gathering of those who followed the way of Jesus, did not gather in cathedrals or temples, stone monoliths or dedicated sanctuary.  The early church gathered in private homes, it was in the homes of early followers that the disciples heard the Gospel and found the support for living out their own calling to service. "This woman," Ortega writes, "gets up and turns the Sabbath into a paschal day of service to others. Jesus does not command her. She is the one that assumes the initiative and awaits the consequences, discovering the value of mutual service above the sacredness of the Sabbath" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1).

In this woman we see this intersection of Sabbath and service.  In this passage we see the call to mutual service juxtaposed with the call to rest.  Both rest and labor, serving and being served.  

There is a phrase you’ll hear me say often--that praying shapes believing...that how we pray and do the work of liturgy, shapes our beliefs.  But, let me take it a bit further...praying shapes believing and believing shapes doing.  Our faith is not a passive one, it is an active expression of all that we are and all we say we believe.  And so, following our recitation of the Nicene Creed, we will lift up the outreach ministries of this community--our faith in action in the community and world in which we live.    

We believe and we serve...the Episcopal Network for Stewardship references the phrase that stewardship is, “Everything I do after I say, “I believe”.  And, so we believe and we do.  Praying, believing, doing...and asking again the question, 

What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?

“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” 

We follow along in the way of Jesus who has lifted us up.  Calling us to be a community of preaching and healing, healing and preaching.  We lift up a saint of the church, the woman who served as the first Deacon.  We lift up our own participation in the healing body of Christ.  We begin to serve, and in that service there is more revelation...


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