Year B 5th Sunday: Mark 1:29-39

1:29 And at once on leaving the synagogue,
he went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew.
1:30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed and feverish,
and at once they told him about her.
1:31 He went in to her, took her by the hand and helped her up.
And the fever left her and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick
and those who were possessed by devils.
1:33 The whole town came crowding round the door,
1:34 and he cured many who were sick with diseases of one kind or another;
he also drove out many devils,
but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

1:35 In the morning, long before dawn,
he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.
1:36 Simon and his companions set out in search of him,
1:37 and when they found him they said, 'Everybody is looking for you.'
1:38 He answered, 'Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns,
so that I can proclaim the message there too, because that is why I came.'
1:39 And he went all through Galilee,
preaching in their synagogues and driving out devils.

Context & Information

1:29-31: Peter’s mother-in-law

In the foregoing story Jesus’ new disciples have seen that the spirit which descended upon Jesus from heaven was stronger than the evil spirit. That is the sign for Peter to speak about his mother-in-law: she is in the grasp of the evil spirit of ‘burning’ fever, as the Greek says. He redeems her by ‘raising’ her up. Here Mark uses the same word as will be used for Jesus’ resurrection! Mother-in-law takes part already in the mystery of the resurrection. She is a new person. We can see that, because she ‘serves’ them. That is what the angels did to Jesus in the desert (1:13). What the angels did to Jesus, she does it now to them: risen up to a new life!

Above: Jesus (in red) cures Peter’s mother-in-law in bed. Above right: mother-in-law (in yellow) serves Jesus and a disciple. Detail of Peter Clare’s Mark painting.

1:32-34: The whole town

What follows is almost touching. The story in the synagogue ended with the line, ‘And his reputation (literally: ‘his hearing’) spread everywhere.’ Now we see the result of that ‘hearing’. After sunset, when sabbath was over, the whole town brought people who were sick to him. I try to imagine what happened. Sick people were to believe that they were punished by God; they had to be isolated, because they were impure. But now they ‘heard’ that there was somebody who didn’t judge or isolate them, but he cured them. As if the housemates of these sick people would have said, ‘You know what: there seems to be someone who can cure you. Shall we try...?’ The whole town! Touching. Such a moment of hope. New life.

1:35-39: A new day

The following morning Jesus ‘stood up’. Again a word that reminds us of the mystery of his resurrection. Jesus himself will speak about his resurrection by using the phrase ‘to stand up’ (cfr. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). This new day brings new aspects of Jesus’ ministry. First he widens his range of action. But secondly, from now on we will hear that his Messianic work will have - unpleasant - consequences for himself. He himself will be isolated in the desert (1:45) and he will encounter opposition from the Scribes (2:6-7). But that will not bother him...

Picture Meditation

We are in the graveyard chapel in Pol-de-Léon, Brittany, France, looking at a stained glass window by Luc Bihan (photo taken by Fr Dries). In the left window Jesus is ‘raising up’ Peter’s mother-in-law. The Greek text says that he ‘grasped’ her hand. ‘Raising her up’ was a harsh work. The artist gives the impression that taking her hand was already enough...

I try to find words for the expression in the face and the attitude of the mother-in-law...
The man in the background is probably Simon Peter, the son-in-law. What is the meaning of the gesture of his hands and the expression of his face and attitude?

On the right sight we also see other witnesses. Probably James and John in the foreground. In that case the man in the background must be Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. I try to find out why the artist gives these places to the acting persons; why does he picture Andrew so far away?

The mother-in-law had risen up. She already takes part in the mystery of the resurrection. I notice that the mother-in-law is pictured with bare feet: a sign that she is going the ways of the Lord and follows the footsteps of Jesus!

Did I ever have a similar experience?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ