After leaving the synagogue, Jesus went home with Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, and the family asked Jesus to help her. He bent over her and spoke harshly to the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and served them.
When the sun was setting, everyone brought to Jesus relatives and acquaintances with all kinds of diseases. Placing his hands on each of them, he healed them. Demons also came out of many people. They screamed, “You are God’s Son.” But he spoke harshly to them and wouldn’t allow them to speak because they recognized that he was the Christ. When daybreak arrived, Jesus went to a deserted place. The crowds were looking for him. When they found him, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must preach the good news of God’s kingdom in other cities too, for this is why I was sent.” So he continued preaching in the Judean synagogues.
My Mom liked to watch Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman. One night I told her I couldn’t stand the show. “Why?” she asked.
“Because it destroys the women’s movement! It distracts from the struggle women have had in being accepted as equals. Young girls watching the show are completely oblivious of how their Grandmothers had to fight for even the right to be seen as human beings. The show makes it seem like women have always had the rights they do now. If this were more authentic, she wouldn’t ‘get’ to do a third of what the show portrays.”
The same thing happens when some of us read the Bible. We come to it with the way we understand things today - with our views of justice and equality - and when we read stories in the Bible to don’t line up with that view, we’re appalled. We think that it’s horrible and that it’s unfair and on and on.
And we’d be right.
If we were reading a newspaper article about a story in modern day Israel.
But we’re not. We’re reading ancient history. The way of life for them is far, far removed from our way of life today. The things that we feel are “right” would have been blasphemous on one hand and possibly life threatening on the other. What we have to do when reading the Bible (or any other historical book) is hard work - we have to dig to find out what society what like for the people we’re reading about.
And I find this rather odd.
When one reads, I don’t know, Shakespeare, one doesn’t get offended at the way the women were treated or the fact that there were slaves. “That the way things were,” we say rather smugly.
But, read a biblical passage like the one today, and our “righteous indignation” starts to flare up! “The Bible supports the subjugation of women,” some of us spout with ruffled feathers, shaking our fist in the air.
However, that’s not what this passage is about.
Not by a long shot.
This passage is about the rescue of a person as an outcast and returning her to her societally accepted state. The fact that Peter’s mother-in-law served her guests was the “right” thing to do in their context. It would have been rude and, dare I say, blasphemous, if she didn’t serve them. Am I saying that women should “serve” men? Am I saying that they are “less than” men? If you knew me, you would know just how silly those questions are.
I’m saying that what we see in this story is the inclusion of women in the Realm of G_d. And not just in the “role” of subordinate - but in the “role” of an acting participant. Being hospitable in Eastern culture is an admirable and “right” thing to be, whether one is female or male. To be less than hospitable is to bring shame and disgrace upon one’s family for generations.
Sure, later on, Pete and his mother-in-law could challenge the role of women in their society (and we have biblical record that the church did just that), but not at that moment. To challenge it then, and please hear what I’m about to say, would have probably been the absolute desolation of people following Jesus. The little movement would have been wiped out before it had even started. All of Jesus’ followers would have probably ended up like him - tortured and nailed to a cross as an example to all those who would challenge accepted societal mores. It would take several hundred years before the equality of women would come into the spotlight. And what we have today still needs to be challenged.
What we see in this story is a beacon of hope for people who are marginalized and considered outcasts by society. It’s the first step towards their ultimate freedom and equality. It’s a sign of hope that, through Jesus, the world has been put to rights and we must strive to make that reconciliation a reality in all corners of creation.
One of the earliest Christian documents states, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The reconciliation has taken place. It’s now up to us to make it a reality for everyone.
The rest of the passage paints that very picture. The demoniac was delivered and restored to her family. The person stricken with a fatal disease was healed and able to return to his loved ones. And not only in that one specific location; that isolated geography. The reconciliation was for “other cities,” too. It was for all creation:
Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
whether things on earth or in the heavens.
He brought peace through the blood of his cross.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC