As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Mark 1:29-31
This week I sat in the hospital with a woman worrying about her mother. The woman is in her late 50’s, the mother in her early 80’s. The woman is terribly upset at the prospect of life without her mother. I understand her apprehensions. I know how she feels, even though my mother and I were both much younger when we faced that moment together. It doesn’t matter, you see, how old your mother is, or even how satisfying or disappointing the relationship has been. The loss of a mother changes the landscape permanently.
Maybe you have lost your mother, or someone else whose death changed the look of the world around you.
But that didn’t happen to Simon’s family. Instead Jesus walked into the house, took her by the hand, and lifted her up.
And she began to serve them.
It may seem like some old-fashioned stereotyping when we hear that Simon’s mother-in-law got up from what might have been her deathbed to wait on people. But I wonder if maybe that wasn’t exactly the thing she most loved to do?
Imagine another family scene. In a big old house in Virginia, my mother sat weakly in a comfortable chair, watching her grandsons play. They were 2 and 7, and although they didn’t know it, she was dying of cancer. The doctor told my parents that she might live another four to six weeks, and my father got on the phone, asking me to bring the children to see her. We flew in and stayed for most of the April vacation week. My mother had very little energy; the melanoma that began years before as a changed mole on her back was now in her liver, among other places, and she grew frailer and fainter each day.
On the morning we were to leave, Mother wanted us to pack a lunch for the airplane. She was a very frugal person, and even though it would have been no trouble for my father to hand me a $20 bill instead, she couldn’t bear thinking we might waste money on expensive food in the airport. We all gathered in the kitchen while I made the sandwiches; my mother mustered her strength to sit in a straight chair at the kitchen table.
She asked for a cutting board and two apples. She sat there, peeling and coring the apples, cutting them into neat slices, then putting them back together. She wrapped them in waxed paper, with a twist at the top that looked rather like a stem. When we opened the apples to eat on the plane, my eyes filled with tears. It was the last time I would see my mother do something for another person, and she had wrapped those apples for my little boys.
Those were healing apples for all of us. They carried her love, and that love became part of each of us. And preparing those apples healed my mother, too, for in that small act of caring she was herself in a way she hadn’t been during her illness. In those moments, she was healed to be who she was.