Congregational Church of Christ

United Church of Christ

"A little church with a big heart!"

Healing Simon's mother-in-law ~ Reflections on Mark 1:29-39

The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark tells us about Simon’s mother-in-law.  We don’t know what his relationship with her was like.  But we do know that extended families often lived together, and that she likely had a respected role in Simon Peter’s household.


We also know that Jesus has begun his ministry of healing.  He and his disciples have just left the synagogue at Capernaum, where Jesus cast out a demon from a man possessed.   Then they are summoned to visit this woman who is suffering with a fever, and “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”  Another miraculous healing with an interesting twist.  Healed when she was lifted up, “she began to serve them.” 


We could get all tangled up in wondering why a woman recently healed from her fever would rush right to the kitchen to make a meal for her guest.  Think Martha and Mary here, and that’s pretty darn typical for many hard working women I know.   We might also imagine that she was so grateful, she wanted to serve him.  Or perhaps she believed it was what was expected of her.


But what I see is this.  After her healing experience, Simon’s mother-in-law, like her son-in-law and his fellow fishermen, became a follower of Jesus.  Because that’s what those who have been touched by Jesus do.  When Jesus lifts us up (“raises up” in the Greek), touches our lives and heals us from demons, from illness, from spiritual brokenness, we are made whole, and we are compelled, even propelled, to serve others as we have been served.  The experience of healing from woundedness becomes a gift that can be brought to bear in reaching out to heal others, touching the lives of others as we have been touched.


Dutch Catholic priest, theologian and author, Henri Nouwen, asked, “Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?”   In other words, it is out of our own suffering and healing that we can more clearly see the suffering and brokenness in others, and reach out to serve them with greater empathy and compassion.


But we must turn and look into the eyes of others, in order to serve them.  In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen tells this story.  “One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words: “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people. But the minister did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him, and asked, “What have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said: “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.” (1)


Looking into another’s eyes, reaching out to serve someone else...Nouwen continues, ”while versions of this story are very old, it seems the most modern of tales.  Like that minister, who might have recognized the Messiah if he had raised his eyes from his Bible to look into the youth’s eyes, we are challenged to look into the eyes others....to connect with them and with their woundedness.”  We, who have experience Jesus Christ, we who have been healed, become followers when we use our healing to serve others.  We are, each of us, powerful conduits for God’s healing love.   Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we are wounded healers.


Our congregation has a new tradition of standing in a circle, hand-in-hand, to pass a squeeze and say a prayer for one another and all those who are in need at the end of each Breakfast Church.  In a very real sense, in our prayer circle we are modeling just this—for ourselves and for our children.  Through this simple ritual, we are saying, “Jesus Christ has touched my life, and I, in turn, reach out to touch yours,” and so on, and so on, all around the circle.  Standing face-to-face and hand-to-hand in a circle, looking into each other’s eyes, we are connected by that healing and service, to one another and to everyone whose lives we touch.


Looking into another’s eyes, reaching out to serve someone else...Nouwen continues, ”while versions of this story are very old, it seems the most modern of tales.  Like that minister, who might have recognized the Messiah if he had raised his eyes from his Bible to look into the youth’s eyes, we are challenged to look into the eyes others....to connect with them and with their woundedness.”  We, who have experience Jesus Christ, we who have been healed, become followers when we use our healing to serve others.  We are, each of us, powerful conduits for God’s healing love.   Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we are wounded healers.


Our congregation has a new tradition of standing in a circle, hand-in-hand, to pass a squeeze and say a prayer for one another and all those who are in need at the end of each Breakfast Church.  In a very real sense, in our prayer circle we are modeling just this—for ourselves and for our children.  Through this simple ritual, we are saying, “Jesus Christ has touched my life, and I, in turn, reach out to touch yours,” and so on, and so on, all around the circle.  Standing face-to-face and hand-to-hand in a circle, looking into each other’s eyes, we are connected by that healing and service, to one another and to everyone whose lives we touch.


(1)  Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer:  Ministry in Contemporary Society, Image Books, Doubleday:  New York, 1979, 23.