Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time B: February 4, 2024

Mark 1: 29-39

Fr. John Tran

I would guess that you never gave any thought to Peter’s mother-in-law when you read this gospel passage from Mark; I know I never really gave her much thought at all. We don’t even know her name, nor Peter’s wife’s name for that matter. Surely the mother-in-law can’t be very important in the great scheme of things, or even in this gospel passage. So, why did the gospel mention her?

Mothers-in-law often to not get good press; there are many jokes about them these days. Yet, many people I know are very close to their mothers-in-law. It would seem in today’s gospel that this is the case with Peter. After he has been called by Jesus to leave all and follow him, he witnessed a remarkable thing in the synagogue just moments before he came to his house with Jesus. Remember that Jesus had been seen as a person who teaches with authority by the whole congregation. And he valued his mother-in-law so much, that after all this, he was willing to bring to Jesus his worry about her health and even, perhaps, her life. You say, all this is fine and good, but what does it have to do with the gospel message and Jesus’ mission?

It has to do with Jesus in this way, and I don’t mean just the opportunity for healing and showing forth his power. The overwhelming quality of Jesus is his compassion. He is not coming to the mother-in-law out of a need to show off, not even the wish to impress a new follower, Peter. Jesus is there for this woman and for her alone; it is not for the crowd or to win over disciples. Rather, he is offering guidance and hope to one who is suffering, as he does to those confused, ignorant, or sinful. Jesus has a way of being present as if the person is the only person in the world. He brings healing, strength, and peace to the soul.

And notice what this woman does after she has been healed: “[Jesus] grasped her hand and helped her up. Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.” This is important: “SHE WAITED ON THEM.” She did not go rest up after her ordeal. She did not ask to be waited on herself. She did not run out and tell others about her healing. No, she waited on them.

It is interesting that Jesus not only healed her, but he raised her up. Jesus healed her and changed her life. She no longer thought of herself first, but thought of others. She was full of gratitude and thanksgiving.

When you think of it, she is the picture of what it is to be a disciple. After all, what is a disciple if not a person of service, a person who brings Jesus into life by acting as he did. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is important because she shows us exactly who we are to be: a disciple who serves others.

Peter's mother-in-law is not only a picture of service, she is also one who serves with love and openness to the touch of Jesus.

A few years ago, in Sweden, a nurse working in a government hospital was assigned to an elderly woman patient. This patient was a tough case. She had not spoken a word in three years. The other nurses disliked her and tried to avoid her as much as they could. Basically, they ignored her. But the new nurse decided to try “unconditional love.” The elderly woman patient rocked all day in a rocking chair. So, one day the nurse pulled up a rocking chair beside the lady and just rocked along with her and loved her. Occasionally, the nurse would reach over and gently touch and pat the hand of the elderly woman. After just a few days of this, the patient suddenly opened her eyes and turned and said to the nurse, “You’re so kind.” The next day she talked some more and incredibly two weeks later, the lady was well enough to leave the hospital and go home! Of course, it doesn’t always work like that, but studies are accumulating which show without question that love has healing power. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus demonstrated the love and mercy of God his Father for His children by his compassion and healing.

How have I shown compassionate, healing service today? How have I let God use me as an instrument to raise someone up? Am I a disciple who shows Jesus to others by serving them? Do I bring healing and comfort, peace and strength to those around me; even to the ones I cannot identify with or feel affection for? To be a good disciple, we not only need to heal and bear witness, we need to have compassion and see others as the only people in the world. Filled with Jesus’ compassion, we can wait on anyone, just as Jesus did for Peter’s mother-in-law, and the Swedish nurse did to that unresponsive patient.