Holy scripture never lacks for ways to show something of God to us. No matter how familiar the story, no matter how many times we’ve heard it, we can always hear it or read it with fresh ears and eyes. Sometimes, it’s one small detail in the middle of a much longer story that suddenly appears new to us and opens up fresh possibilities for what God might be up to in this story and in our own lives.
Reading the Gospel passage assigned for this Sunday coming, I was struck by one piece of one verse in particular. This passage follows the passage of last Sunday, where Jesus has taught with authority in the synagogue and cast the unclean spirit out of the man there. This week, we hear the story of Jesus visiting the mother-in-law of Simon. She is sick with a fever and when Jesus hears this “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus takes the woman by the hand, lifts her up from the bed where she is lying ill, and she is healed. A healing miracle.
He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. - Mark 1.31
Healing miracles are no surprise in the Gospels. Jesus heals people all of the time and, later, so do the apostles. But in Mark’s version of the Gospel, this is the first healing miracle we hear about. The first curing of illness at the touch of Jesus of Nazareth. What struck me as I read this story—something I had not considered before—was just who Jesus chose to heal first. Simon’s fevered mother-in-law. Given that we do not hear of her husband and that she is living with her son-in-law and his brother, it is likely that this woman is a widow. Had she a living husband, they would be living together or possibly some of their extended family with them, but she would not likely be in her son-in-law’s family home. Why is Jesus’s healing of a widow as his first healing miracle an important realization?
In the culture in which these people live, widows are among the most vulnerable and powerless people. They have no legal standing, they have little opportunity to make money, they may not have families who can care for them and few ways to care for themselves. They are women—not a great start in their society—whose husbands have died and, thereby, are deprived of access to all of the men-only parts of their society. And much of their society is a men-only club. The vulnerability of widows is why scripture so often uses them as an example of those we should care for. “Widows and orphans” is an oft-repeated phrase in scripture that is meant to call our attention to those who are the most vulnerable, most forgotten, most likely to be taken advantage of.
Simon’s mother-in-law has a son-in-law who cares for her, so she fares better than many widows. But she is a vulnerable widow nonetheless and it is through her that Jesus chooses to first show the world some of what the nearness of the Kingdom of God means. Jesus does not choose a powerful man, a leader, a military officer, a wealthy landowner, a religious figure, or any other “elite” individual in which to show the healing power of the Kingdom. He chooses a vulnerable, nearly-powerless, fevered widow dependent on the goodwill of her son-in-law. This forgotten person on the margins of her society is who God sees and says “Ah, yes. This is the first place I will show forth my blessing of healing and wholeness.”
God stands with those that we might most often forget. God remembers the forgotten and favours them with blessing.
This realization of the importance of Jesus’s first healing miracle in Mark’s telling of the Gospel leads me now to wonder: Who might we be called to bless? Who are those for whom God’s heart is most full? Who are the ones filling God’s sight and who we choose not to see? Who are those in need and who we have the means to help, if only we gave them notice?
Who are the ones we have forgotten who God wishes to see put first?
Who might we lift up?
Written for the Parish of Holy Trinity, Winnipeg.