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The Sick Lay Around Thee

Mark 1:29-39

The Rev. Jon Roberts

4 February


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

29 And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.


Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law Rembrandt 1650-1660

At even when the sun was set, the sick, oh Lord, around thee lay, oh with what diverse gains were met, oh with what joy they went away.[1]

In a different hymnal to our own, Henry Twellis wrote, in this first verse, the diverse pains of those crying out to healed on a nearby battlefield, not so long ago. It paints the picture of how our Lord meets the needs of so many, sick, dying, possessed, yet finding great joy by the touch of the Savior. The several stories of Jesus healing people are quite profound, but some would say there were none so profound as the miracle of Jesus healing a mother-in-law.

George took his wife and mother-in-law to the Holy Land to enjoy the sights and to see the place they have heard about for so many years. They were all looking forward to the trip. Once there, they walked up and down those ancient roads, through the gates of Jerusalem and between the building of the holy city. Suddenly, George’s mother-in-law died on the spot. He went to the American Consulate after her death to determine what option to take in returning her body stateside. The consulate told him he had two options. Option one,” he said, “is that we prepare your mother-in-law’s body here, put her in a casket, and send her on a transport back home. It is rather costly and would cost $50,000.” George asked him, “What is my second option?” The consulate said, “Well, option two would be that we inter her body here in the Holy Land, for only $1,500.” George didn’t hesitate by answering, “I’ll take the first option.” The consulate replied, “You do realize the cost difference and this option is much more expensive? You must have really loved your mother-in-law.” George replied, “Not really. I heard the story about Jesus, how he died here in this city, and three days later he rose again. It’s simply a risk I can’t take.”

All good preaching is the privilege of the imagination.[2] We need to be most careful that we do not add to this bad reputation about the mother-in-law. It is easy for us to take our current time, the culture in which we live, and to project that on what happened two thousand years ago. This may come as a great shock to most, but Peter was married.[3] If you asked any Christian, they would probably say that all twelve disciples were celibate men, in their twenties, mostly fishermen, who dropped everything they had because they had nothing to lose. In the Gospel account today, it was Peter’s mother-in-law who was healed. The other observation is Jesus’ power to heal family. Years later, after this miraculous account of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and after the resurrection of Jesus, Clement, the Bishop of Alexandria, and Eusebius, the church historian, gave account of how this miracle touched the life of Peter and his family.[4-5] The near-death experience in Galilee, or any other part of Israel, was considered a risk. When someone has the fever, the type that kills, like the kind Peter’s mother-in-law had, it was forbidden for a priest to enter the room. It was only flesh and blood that were allowed as death loomed. A litany of prayers would be offered, a vigil would be kept but the person was considered unclean. What Jesus did, to go into the room, to touch the dying was unprecedented by any type of rabbi. This healing miracle moved Peter’s wife so very much. Thirty or so years later, in Rome, just before Peter was taken to be crucified upside down, he watched his wife and children being led away to be martyred. It was the look in his wife’s eyes, of peace, of a holy calm and faith in Jesus, that he heard her say to him, “Oh thou, remember the Lord.”

Everything in the Jewish custom relied on what happened around the table. When you were invited to dinner, that meant something. Bringing people to dine together was important. Growing up, I recall going to my grandmother’s house for a holiday meal. It was a big table, and everyone was told where to sit. It was an opportunity for everyone to share their stories and get caught up. There was humor and there was seriousness. My grandmother, who was my father’s mother-in-law, I remember, never sat. She was always serving. If you talked too much, she would come over and put food in your mouth and tell you to eat more. The table was where people were fed and nourished, and the mother of the table was responsible for peace and harmony during the meal. Remember, Peter was married, two sources already mentioned refer to her, and his children, who most likely sat at his mother-in-law’s table many times. They were not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, but witnesses recalled how they were put to death. What happened at the mother-in-law’s house, that day she was struck with fever?[6] What did Jesus ask of his disciples? He asked them to follow him. They would willingly follow someone who was a rabbi unless they had obligations to look after their family. If they did such a thing, who would care for them? In Peter’s case, that obligation belonged to his mother-in-law. What would have happened if she had not been healed by Jesus that day? Peter would never had been able to leave his family to follow Jesus for three years.

Think about the importance where there is a place of solace and peace, a place of refuge and to send out disciples. After Jesus was in the synagogue, he went to a home for supper. Hopefully, after receiving the Eucharist on Sunday, you go home, take your shoes off, change into some comfortable clothes and prepare something nourishing to eat. Maybe your peaceful place is to go to a local restaurant, to sit around a table with friends and family. Taking such rest and having such nourishment and having fellowship is important after digesting God’s word and sacrament. Suffering with one another needs eventual rest. Cyprian said, “You cannot have God as your father if you do not have the church as your mother.” Why do we come back to church each Sunday? It is because it is a place where we are nourished with the same food, sit around the same table, visit with family and friends. This is where we are nourished, and it is where the sick and the dying are healed. Who sits around thee? What obligation, as disciples do we have to attend to these needs if it is not for the purpose of healing?

At even when the sun is set, the sick, oh Lord, around thee lay, oh in what diverse gains were met, oh with what joy they go away.

[1] Angelus, by Henry Twells, Rejoice in the Lord Hymnal, #252, vs. 1
[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Scottish theologian, 1948-present
[4] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book VII.
[5] Eusebius, Pamphilius, V2, ch. XXX.
[6] Mark 1:29-39

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