I find I get stuck in the first half of the lesson before us now... wondering at Simon's Mother-in-Law and her immediate response to Jesus' healing. I get stuck there, I suppose, because in some small way it is familiar to me even across this expanse of time and space and culture. For while I have not yet known illness or injury which threatens my life, I have certainly witnessed this in the journey of others. For that matter, even my relatively minor aches and pains and the very occasional bout with the flu or a virus gives me a window into her experience. She had been ill. Ill to the point of death, apparently, else why would the disciples have been so quick to bring her suffering to Jesus' attention? And suddenly she wasn't. And her first response, understandably, was to get back to a 'normal' life --- to all those things she had missed doing so easily before she was taken down by this fever. She served because, no doubt, it was what she had always done. It was simply perhaps what she knew best. Only this time she was able to do so as grateful response to what she had just now so miraculously received. I get stuck in this part of the story because it is almost small enough for me to get my head around. Almost.
For you see, before long I start to wonder because at least for me, in my experience, healing hardly ever comes like that. Even a minor cold or cough can get you down for weeks. I regularly walk alongside those who have been laid low by serious illness or traumatic injury and sometimes it is hard to say if the healing will ever be complete. Indeed, it has been months since I took a spill off a ladder while trying to unclog a drain pipe after a summer storm and still, even now long after the visible bruises have long since faded, I am healing. It is unheard of that one who has been so very ill should be able to get up and go about the task of feeding a houseful of men so soon after her fever left her. In this world, in this life, at least in my experience, it just doesn't work that way.
Which, of course, appears to be the point.
Oh, it is no wonder, really that the news of this woman's healing quickly seeped out of those four walls so that pretty soon 'the whole city' was gathered outside the front door with all their ailments and woes in tow. It is no wonder at all for few of us don't yearn to return to a time before. Before I fell. Before the truck slammed into me. Before the diagnosis was made and treatment began. Before my marriage fell apart, before my loved one died, before...
Only as full of her old life as Simon's Mother-in-Law now appears to be? Even she could not have fully returned to 'before.' For she has experienced something which, though it will not yet take her life, it has taken something still and has replaced it with something altogether different --- if nothing more than an exquisite awareness that she never had before. No, for her and for that great crowd gathered outside her front door, life would never be the same again for they have experienced both the depths of despair and the height of hope and the wonder of life renewed in a way perhaps they never have before.
At least this is how it was for me.
My sense is this is somewhat rare for I do have to go back many years now to the winter my dad died. To those three long weeks when we stood vigil with him --- hanging in the balance --- all the while yearning to return to a time when this particular suffering was foreign to us all. All the while praying for his return to health even as our awareness deepened that this was not likely to be. At least not in this life.
Now of course, the parallel is not perfect, for we knew no miraculous healing --- at least not in the conventional sense. Even so, for all the years which have passed, I have not forgotten the awareness which came to me on a dark January night, not long after midnight. I was standing in a hospital elevator as we prepared to leave the hospital that last time without him when I was suddenly awash with the certainty that while I would do anything to have him back, still I would be hard pressed to willingly give up what I now knew:
- About the preciousness of human life and the gift of the laughter of my sisters as we whiled away the hours in the waiting room telling old stories.
- About the wonder of community who showed up in a thousand ways.
- About the generosity of my congregation who let me go and be and do what needed to be done where I needed to do it.
- About my own resilience and the profound, inexplicable but oh-so-palpable presence of God.
- And about how faith had not died when it came up against some of the worst of what life can hand you, but was mysteriously strengthened.
I wonder if Simon's Mother-in-Law and all those gathered around the door that night and all those who encountered the healing hand of Jesus experienced something of that as well... at least in the immediate aftermath of their respective miracles and their return to their 'old lives.' At least for a while.
Because you see, I also know this. I know that in those first weeks after I returned to serving in my congregation I had the ability to simply stand with them in their stories, their questions, their joys, their suffering in a way I never had before. I had a deep patience I never had before. Somehow I was able to listen and understand in ways I had not before that time experienced. Oh, how I yearned for that to last. It did not, of course. Before very long I found myself once more caught up by the more mundane stresses of life. Too soon that exquisite awareness of the mysteries of life and death and the wonder of the one standing before me in any given moment left me. Or at least it mostly did.
To be sure, even the stories of healing we hear now are but a glimmer of what will one day be. Jesus knows this, of course, which I expect is at least partly why he doesn't stay in Capernaum in the home of Simon and Andrew and Simon's Mother-in-Law. Before we know it we follow him in the dark of night to a deserted place where he is at prayer. Indeed, perhaps he is also trying to make sense of all that he has seen and heard and experienced in these last days. Maybe Jesus is also trying to put things in perspective and the only way he knows to do so is in the presence of God. And once his disciples track him down he recognizes that there is more to be done in other places for the work of God is broader and wider and deeper than any one of us can imagine. His preaching and healing throughout Galilee is also but a sign of all that God will one day do. It could not be contained by one family's home or one small town or even all of Galilee. It was meant for all the world.
- Have you ever experienced the sort of miraculous healing experienced by Simon's Mother-in-Law and the others in today's Gospel? What were you more deeply aware of afterwards? What 'exquisite awareness' was then yours?
- Or has your experience of healing been more gradual? That being so, how do you make sense of the miraculous healings we hear about today and elsewhere in the Gospels? How is your experience of 'healing' like or unlike that described here?
- In the wake of healing --- whether it was gradual or instantaneous --- what was your response?