Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39
Last Sunday we were invited to get in touch with how God calls us to be prophets, right from our baptism. The prophet’s job is to listen for God’s voice, and they then proclaim it in word and deed. God needs us for this, because not everyone listens very well. Or we listen to the wrong voices: selfishness, pride, greed; those are not from God. God needs us to be prophets of his reconciling love for the world, prophets of justice and healing and peace. Have we been prophets this week? — by our sincere listening for God’s voice, and by the testimony of our words and deeds?
If you think this is pie-in-the-sky to imagine ourselves prophets, out of reach for ‘ordinary’ people like you and me, I hope we’re going to take some courage from a person in the gospel whom we meet today, who models prophesy by her deeds. She’s the mother-in-law of Simon (whom Jesus called Peter). Let’s try to see ourselves in this woman of faith as we hear today’s gospel.
Lord Jesus, you stand with people in their suffering. Lord have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you free the sick and sorrowful from their burdens. Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you called the healed to join you in your mission of mercy. Lord have mercy.
Glory to God in the Highest…
Did you see Simon’s mother-in-law in this gospel passage? Did you see how she was ill with a terrible fever when Jesus and his new disciples arrived at the house?
Can you imagine what she must have felt, ill in bed with a high fever, and then her son-in-law shows up with all his friends?! How inconvenient! What a worry! Too sick to get out of the bed and play host to these people, though she would likely have felt obliged by her sense of hospitality.
Sometimes when we are facing hardship or suffering, just being by oneself is overwhelming. How much more with strangers showing up unannounced!
I know something of the effects of a serious fever. I once fell sick with a viral fever raging across south India. That was during the malarial climatic conditions of the receding monsoon in November. I started feeling weak. Then I had a fever. My joints, my muscles, my everything ached so terribly. I thought I would die. Then I slept, and slept and slept. When I wasn’t sleeping I was thinking of dying or praying that I would not. Perhaps that’s how Simon’s mother-in-law felt with her fever.
You know, I resonate with Job — that suffering righteous man we hears from in the first reading. At first you hear him and think he’s melodramatic: Wow is me! “Man’s life is a drudgery!” “I am a slave who longs for shade” “I shall never see happiness again!” With life experience, with some measure of our own suffering in our memory (or our present), we know Job is not melodramatic. It really can feel that way! It really can feel hopeless. When I had that terrible fever it felt that way. While Job’s feeling is real, not all of what he’s saying is true. It’s not true that there is no hope, no happiness again. You know the narrative — the lies you tell yourself when you’re suffering.
So let’s imagine that Simon’s mother-in-law was in such bad space in her terrible fever when Jesus and his friends arrived. They tell him about her illness. Jesus feels compassion for her and they go to her bedside. Jesus stretches out his hand to take hers, he helps her up, and the fever leaves her. Relief! A feeling of wellbeing! Even a retreat from the brink of death!
What a powerful encounter she had with Jesus! What a gift to receive from him, a stranger up til then.
I remember when I was ill with the fever in India, after I’d gone through quite a bit of self-pity like Job did, and even felt little hope of recovery, I turned to Jesus. I opened my bible. I remember lying on my side, with the bible open next to me, reading with just one eye open. That’s how ill I felt. And through that scripture I encountered Jesus. I was not alone, and that was the beginning of my healing — a healing from the hopelessness and darkness of illness and suffering. The encounter with Jesus is powerful and curative.
But how is Simon’s mother-in-law a prophet, like I proposed to you at the outset? First, she’s a prophet by her listening and attentiveness to God’s voice. She trusted the stranger, Jesus, whom Simon brought to her. She could see in Jesus eyes his compassion was meant for her. Her heart was hopeful, open to being healed. Second, she’s a prophet by what she did after her healing. It seems very simple: “She got up and waited on them”. What did that entail, I’ve often wondered? I am sure it meant doing what hospitality required: She had a house full of guests! She must have put the kettle on! Made them tea and given them something to eat. For is that not what any hospitable person does when a guest comes? You welcome them, because it’s the right thing to do. She did the right thing.
Not only Jesus and his friends did she welcome. For the healing she received was something lots of people needed and wanted. We hear that virtually the whole town arrived at her door seeing to be healed as she was. I imagine her boiling more water, making more tea, even dragging her bed to the front door so a lame person may rest there til Jesus could see them. I imagine her face showed delight — the kind of joy that only comes where good fortune is shared. Jesus healed her, so now was her turn to help Jesus heal all the other townspeople who were suffering from sickness or demons or broken hearts.
That is prophesy!: listening to the healing voice of God and sharing it by word or deed with others.
Our encounter with Jesus is powerful, not only for the healing we may experience personally, but the prophetic witness it inspires in us to share.
I contend that we can see our St. Anselm community like Simon’s mother-in-law, and we should. For we too were ill.
We had not made our budget for several years.
We nearly closed last fall.
But like Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus took our hand, stood us up, and we were healed.
Our healing was as quick. From October through December
- we exceeded our budget to finish a quarter in the black for the first time in years.
- Our mass attendance exceeded even prepandemic levels.
- And there has been a vigor and new life among our growing number of volunteer parish leaders.
This is a healing for sure.
Yet what does our healing call us to? In our gratitude, how can we respond? Like Simon’s mother, how are we to now help Jesus extend his healing touch to others?
- It’s by being a community that welcomes people here, to be a place of encounter with Jesus, a place of hospitality and love, a place where they will experience the healing touch of Jesus.
- It’s by not becoming self-satisfied but by striving to stretch ourselves to be whole hearted disciples of Jesus – to participate in his mission
Who’s going to put the kettle on? Pour the tea? Offer a chair to a guest? Take joy from getting to know others and see them receive God’s healing in whatever way they need, just as you also receive?
I urge you to try something new!
- Would you be willing to reach out in service through the Helping Hands Ministry?
- Would you go deeper in your prayer life through attending Taizé prayer, weekday mass, rosary or joining the Lent Small Group Program?
- Would you help bring the liturgy to people who cannot join us in person by helping us run the livestream?
- Will you make the Lent retreat — just an hour every saturday morning ?
- Could you help us with the never ending task of maintenance and cleaning of our beautiful church?
Try something new! Go deeper. Do it to deepen your own encounter with Christ who loves you and heals you. Do it out of gratitude, because you want to bring Christ’s love to everyone at your door — the way Simon’s mother-in-law.
For Jesus is here, who heals our ills. Who’s going to put the kettle on? Pour the tea? Pull up a chair? Share a laugh? Give a good wish? Invite a friend? Roll out the red carpet? I hope it will be you. All of you.