Stories, like ours, can reveal our own selves to us. Stories draw us in. Stories awaken in us a sense of who we are and what we desire. They tell us what is changing in us. That’s why we read the scriptures at Mass and not the catechism: because we want to be changed.
That’s the question. Now the puzzle. One of the things I find most mysterious about Mark’s gospel is the way that Jesus is always described as preaching the good news. Like today: “he went into their synagogues preaching the good news and expelling demons.” The puzzle is that Mark never tells us what Jesus says. Matthew goes on endlessly about Jesus’ sermons and teaching but Mark never says a word. All you hear is how wonderful Jesus’ preaching is, how he teaches with authority, how even demons are struck dumb by him. But not a word of what he says. … At least not directly. Instead we get stories about what Jesus does. The story is the good news. And typically, for Mark, these stories are brief, hasty little dramas.
I want to lift up one of these dramas for our attention: the story of Simon’s mother-in-law. It seems simple: Jesus goes to the house of some of his disciples; the woman of the house is ill in bed; Jesus is told; he takes her hand and helps her up and she starts to wait on them.
What’s the story all about? Is it a simple healing story? Is it a moral tale about domestic hospitality? Mark’s stories may be brief but he chooses his words carefully and two in particular are important here. First is the word he uses to describe her healing. Our version says “Jesus grasped her hand and helped her up.” But the original says “he raised her up” and uses the same word that will later be used for Jesus’ resurrection. This is not just a healing story but a story of someone whose sickness is the sickness of every life before Jesus is a part of it; someone who meets Jesus and experiences the power of the resurrection.
The second interesting word is the one Mark chooses to describe how she responds. Our version says, “she waited on them,” but Mark uses the word dieikonei, from which we get the word deacon. It meant both service at table and Christian ministry. Simon’s mother-in-law has an experience of resurrection and immediately behaves like a deacon, becomes involved in service and ministry. And the whole story takes place in the home of some disciples, which is exactly the kind of place in which Mark’s Christian community met on a Sunday afternoon to worship, to share stories, and to minister to each other.
When Mark’s people listened to the story of the mother-in-law’s tale there would have been nods of understanding and recognition. Because her story is not just her own—it’s mine and it’s yours. We have each been lost in sickness of soul. We have each been grasped by Jesus and raised up by the power of the resurrection to new life. We have each immediately turned to our brothers and sisters and ministered to them.
At least, Mark can’t imagine any other way of being a Christian. In his day to enter the house where the disciples gathered meant to risk losing one’s livelihood, one’s respect, and even one’s life. And yet they did. They took the risk because they had been resurrected with Jesus and just had to gather and serve each other, minister to each other. That’s our challenge as Renew begins again, our challenge as Lent begins this week. Have we let Jesus take us by the hand? Have we experienced a real resurrection in our lives? And, perhaps most importantly, has that made us into ministers; disciples; servants of the word?
We have a chance in this time of renewal to pray for a deeper Yes to each of those questions. And in a moment we’ll begin with a rite of anointing in which we’ll both pray for whatever healing we need and be ministers of that healing to each other.