The fifth kind [of worship] is the worship of contrition and confession. As sinners we worship God and prostrate ourselves before Him, needing His forgiveness, as it becomes servants. This happens in three ways. A man may be sorry out of love, or lest he should lose God's benefits, or for fear of chastisement. The first is prompted by goodness and desire for God himself, and the condition of a son: the second is interested, the third is slavish. — St. John of Damascus:
Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images
- Yes, let it sink in, friends: The first bishop of Rome, St. Peter, was married. He had a mother in law, something only issued to those who marry. It seems natural and normal for us that his mother in law might live with him as that is not unusual in our time. But it was not such in Jesus’ time. She should be living with her husband. Is she a widow? Probably, but then she should be living with one of her sons. No sons? She should return to her father’s family as Naomi urged Ruth to do and as was customary. None of that has happened. She has come under the care of her son in law. Perhaps that is a comment on how far her fortunes in life have slipped. She is one or two fortunes lost away from being a beggar at the gate.
- What purpose does she serve, what status does she hold in Peter’s house and in life? Our answer in 2015 is different from the 1st century. In her time maybe her purpose was used up. Perhaps, though we avoid saying so, that is how our old are seen and maybe they see themselves that way as well.
- That fever: Was it unto death? Was she hoping that maybe it was? Have we not seen the old being jealous of one another when one of them dies peacefully and suddenly after little or no sickness? An elderly Gent sat down on the couch, coat and hat put on, waiting for his daughter to pick him up and that is how she found him. “The lucky duck,” were my father’s words, himself suffering from cancer and the nagging thought: “Why am I still here?”
- The allocation of medical resources is a relatively new branch of Philosophical/Medical Ethics. Would it not ask: “Is this miracle really of any worth? If Jesus’ time is limited, should he not have found a subject with a brighter future to heal? What, after all, are her prospects?”
- But she seems to have taken to the healing quite well. She seems to have found new purpose to her existence. She now, in thankfulness, serves Jesus. I know, I planted the idea of thankfulness into this story. The text merely states that she got up and served them. In Peter’s house it was Peter’s responsibility to do that. Hospitality to those outside the family — like Jesus and the disciples not of Peter’s family — was men’s work. Yet, she has taken on the job and her work seems to have been received by the rest. She seems to have been freed in many ways.
- The healing was about the fever to be sure, but it was about much more than that, and maybe that other subtext is more important than the prime picture. We can be sick without any physical anatomical symptoms or ailments. Just to be useless and to know it is a sickness that is to death. The leper who will come to Jesus in the verses that follow our pericope knows this as he is an outcast with no status or purpose in his society. The lame man and his friends, who will tear up a roof to get him before Jesus (Mk 2:1-12), know this as well.
- The lives that Jesus “touches” in these chapters are changed. He has preached at the beginning of his ministry: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” These folks “auto-repent” if you will, just because their situation and place in life has just changed utterly. They can be repented now that Jesus has given them a life to begin with. There is little repenting a leper can do and he will certainly not repent his way out of leprosy. They now have a life and the fact that the kingdom of heaven is near has become manifest in them as they are taken out of their sick situation.
- In a way we need that as well. Repentance, new life, is not a work of the human will. Bo Giertz put this little admonishment into Hammer of God. It is a conversation between the Lutheran Bishop and a little lay preacher who had fallen into the traps of Arminianism and Decision Theology.
- If you believe that you are saved because you gave Jesus your heart then you are not. It is one thing to choose Jesus as your lord, to gift him your heart, and to make a decision for him so he might thank us and be happy to count us as one of his small, elect flock. It is quite another thing to believe in him as the one who takes away our sin and is our savior. One does not chose a savior and one does not make a gift to him of ones heart which is merely a rusty sardine can on the rubbish heap. Verily, a fine birthday present that would be indeed! No, there comes a peculiar Lord who has mercy on the dented little can and picks it up from the mud with the sharp point of his walking stick and he takes it with him. That is how it happens.
- It is peculiar to me how Jesus preaches repentance but the Gospel of Mark reports none. Instead, the Gospel of Mark reports healings. Lots of them. He preaches the good news, for this is why he came and he works new lives, repentance, as exemplified by Peter’s mother in law and the leper and the paralyzed man brought to him through a hole in the roof.
- I ask with John of Damascus: In our prayers and in our worship are asking for foreignness, do we confess our sins, because we desire God or are we doing so out of fear of punishment or because we sense, selfishly, that a good deal for eternal life might be in the offering? It is a sick life that does not desire God or sees no life in itself. It is redeemed one that does long for the revelation of all that God has done, but only good can heal the sick life.