This week’s gospel is the rather straightforward story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.
The story is that after Jesus and his newly-recruited followers went to shul and cast out a demon they repaired to Peter’s house in Capernaum where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus held her hand and resurrected her, and the fever left her. Lots of other people in Capernaum were sick or demon possessed and Jesus did what he could for all of them.
It goes downhill from there. This is not a very exciting passage. There is no screaming demon, no tearing of the sky, no dramatic temptations from Satan. It’s a simple healing. Let’s just say it, as Bible stories go, it’s boring.
As your essayist, I didn’t know what to do with this story so I tried to put it into context by reading the whole book. Here’s what I discovered:
- There is a lot of resurrection in Mark.
This is just the first resurrection story. The language used to describe what happened to Peter’s unnamed mother-in-law is the same language that will later be used to describe Jesus’s resurrection.
- There are a lot of demons in Mark.
Jesus casts them all out. In Mark 5, he even sends some of them into pigs. That is a much more exciting story.
- Jesus likes to hold hands.
And finally, and most sweetly, I learned that Jesus likes to hold hands. I did not know that about Jesus, but he takes people by the hand three times in Mark. Besides this he takes the hand of Jairus’s unnamed daughter in Mark 5:21, and he takes the hand of the epileptic boy in Mark 9:27. It is hardly noticeable when you read the gospel story-by-story the way the lectionary gives it to us, but if you treat the book as a single document (which it is) then it’s more apparent, and I think it’s a tender attribute of Jesus. I like thinking about this.
I have recently moved to Saudi Arabia, and I am not in one of the glamorous cities like Jeddah, or Riyadh. My town, Qurayat, is beyond hardscrabble. It is rough. It’s unattractive. I often feel that I would be better off wearing boots and blue jeans instead of my best patent leather loafers and an abaya, both of which are most impractical. Despite its appearance, though, I have found lovely people everywhere I go. They always want to know where I am from, and then they tell me how much they love Trump. I don’t think they even know his first name, they just say, “Ah! Trump. I love.” I just smile. Sometimes it is more prudent to keep one’s feelings under the abaya, as they say.
The other thing they want to know is whether or not I am Muslim. In Burma I used to say, “No, but I am Christian,” and the Burman Muslims would say, “Oh, same-same… One God.” And it was as if we were of the same faith based solely on the fact that we have the same God. The Lord God, the One God. But I noticed early on that my Saudi friends were not nearly as impressed with that answer. So, I have begun saying, “Not yet.” They like that better.
Allah is just another word for God, after all. And Muslims accept Jesus as a great prophet, and read the Bible. Really, unless you like bacon a lot, there’s no reason not to convert. Is there? I have met several former Christians who are now Muslims based on there being no real difference. Isn’t that interesting?
Of course, there is a difference. And, of course, I am not going to become Muslim. No one has pressured me to become one either. But being here, and being asked about it so often has caused me to ask myself:
Here is my answer: Whether from love, or mercy, or curiosity, I don’t know… Yahweh, God, Allah, the Lord, the Almighty, the one of a thousand names, came here to Earth. He did not come as a rich man, or a great teacher, or a ruler. He named himself Jesus and came in tenderness and vulnerability as a baby, he and his family became political migrants, later they lived under a military dictatorship, and when Jesus grew up he healed people, cast out their demons and held their hands.
Jesus was a great prophet. He defeated sin and the devil. He was a brilliant storyteller, a compassionate healer, and a good friend…all true, and agreed to by all three monotheistic faiths. But, the real reason I stick with Jesus is because he is a hand holder. He is not out there somewhere, and not high above us in the sky. Jesus – God with us – is beside us, holding our hands.
It is true that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a devotion to the one true God. There are not three Gods, only one. But Jesus is the hand-holding God who is present in every sunrise, every gentle breeze, and in every tumult and trial that this very harsh life can throw at us. That is the Christian distinctive I have staked my life on. So, for me, I’ll stay Christian.
Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. But we can read sickness in a lot of different ways. When you are sick people may care for you, but they don’t really know how you feel. You are alone with it, and sometimes isolated from your former life, friends, activities. Maybe, like Peter’s mother-in-law, you are feeling sick, or alone. Maybe you need to be healed too, maybe it would be nice just to know that somebody is holding your hand as you brace yourself for next week. Whatever your situation, Jesus is in it with you, holding your hand, and ready to raise you up into all kinds of new life.
Linda McMillan is in al Qurayyat, in Northern Saudi Arabia, where the men are men and the women are covered.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
This story is told in all three of the synoptic gospels which may account for it seeming a little boring. We’ve heard it before, after all. See Matthew 8, and Luke 4 in addition to today’s reading.
Besides this passage, you can find resurrection language in Mark 2:9, 2:11, 3:3, 5:41, 9:27 and, finally, Jesus’s resurrection is described in the same language in Mark 16:6.
Similarly, when she is resurrected she serves, just as Jesus who said that he came not to be served, but to serve. (mark 10:45). He raised her up to be like him. It’s not about being raised up so she can fetch breakfast for the men-folk, it’s so that she can live a life as robust and infused with God-energy as Jesus himself. And so that she can serve, because that is what Jesus did.
There are demons in Mark 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 16. Lots and lots of demons. Read it for yourself.
You can read the story about Jesus putting demons into pigs in Mark 5.
I have found lovely people in Qurayat because that is what I am looking for. One hard and fast truism is that you find what you’re looking for.
The word Islam has two meanings: Submission to the will of the One True God and Peace. Interestingly Islam has the same root letters as salam (the Arabic word for peace) and Muslim. S, L, and M. Interesting in converting? I am told that this is pretty much it.
If you are from Texas, like me, then you know what boots are. But if you’re wondering about abayas, check out this link.
And, of course, I am not going to leave you without some rock and roll to get your week started off right.