Readings Zephaniah 3:14-20, Mark 1:29-30
Many people enter Jesus’ orbit during his ministry, whose lives are changed. Some receive his healing, some ask him questions, some test his patience, some proclaim his greatness, some fund his ministry, some become his disciples and are sent out. For some of these we have a good deal of detail – name, occupations, and dispositions preserved in Scripture (Peter for example – who gets so lucky that two of his names preserved in Scripture!). Others we refer to by that which draws them into Jesus’ orbit (the woman who had bled for 12 years), and some we can only refer to by their relation to another person who had drawn closer to the centre (Peter’s wife and his mother-in-law).
For many of the closest disciples (and some of the closest opponents) scripture reveals to us their motivations, their passions, their experiences with and expectations of Jesus… for others, we are left to imagine what exactly they felt about Jesus based on the small moments of proximity we have recorded.
I want us to wonder today about Peter’s wife. She isn’t named in the gospel reading, rather this story of healing centres her mother (referred to as Peter’s mother-in-law). But I wonder what she experienced in this moment that her own mother was healed? What was her opinion about this man that her husband had left his work/left their livelihoods to follow around? This man of little to no reputation and societal standing. What was her reaction when Simon came to her and said, “I was out fishing and then this man came and told me that if we follow him he will make us fish for people”? Did she consider him in much the way that Jack’s mum does when he sells their cow for magic beans? Or did she – in sensing this change and hope in Peter – also wonder if this man who called him out from the water was the one that Israel was waiting for? Were the embers of those hopes flamed into a fire in the witnessing of this healing of her mother? Was that flame emboldened by Simon’s own recounting of the things he was seeing and hearing as he followed Jesus around? Did she begin to follow Jesus too? Did she cast down her own nets – whatever they may have been – to come and see? Or was she required to stay at home… to hold down the home front and tend to children and see that the small work of survival and care was achieved in order to ‘make room’ for Simon to begin his new life as a disciple? What did she think when he came home and said, “actually I’m going by Peter now, Jesus says I’m the rock on whom he will build his church”?
Perhaps amidst all of this she saw herself as one of the daughters of Zion who receive the promise of the GOD WHO IS SALVATION through the prophet Zephaniah. She, like many of her time through to us today, would have known her scriptures and the comfort they bring… she would not have been able to read them, but she would have heard them, and in hearing them committed to memory those words that brought her most hope and promise, those that best shaped the life she sought to live. Why would those words not be those spoken through a prophet to a people awaiting deliverance (like hers under Rome)? Why would she not see herself as a daughter of Zion to whom God promises: to turn away enemies and deliver salvation; over whom God will rejoice with gladness, renew in love, exult over with loud singing. Why wouldn’t she cling to the promise of God to deal with all her oppressors and save the lame and gather the outcast, who will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. She, like many around her, could have felt – with palpable expectation that the day in which God will bring them all home and make Israel renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth was at hand – and that the agent of this deliverance and exultation was this man who came proclaiming the kingdom of God, who cast out demons and healed the sick, who proclaimed good news to the poor and deliverance of the captives and then said that today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!
So let’s say she bought in… that this daughter of Zion saw in the one who healed her mother the agent of God’s deliverance and salvation, believed him to be the Messiah of Israel who would gather up a lost and colonised nation and change their shame into praise and renown. Let us say that she hung on his teaching, that she marvelled in her wondrous works, that she waited eagerly to hear what Peter and the others reported from their times following Jesus throughout the region. Let us also imagine that she had her own moments in conversation with Jesus – that she asked him questions, tended to him as a guest, prayed with him, sung hymns with him, and came to place the fullness of her hope in him and his kingdom, her full trust in what God was about to do for her, for her people – who had long awaited redemption… let’s say, she was a disciple… how then, I wonder, might she have felt when her husband came home one day and said, I denied the Lord, and now he is dead.
How would she feel in the wake of such a confession… such a loss? In the days following, was she with the other disciples as they huddled and hid in Jerusalem? Or would she be back Galilee? What would she have thought as the stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances began to emerge? Might she have tried to dissuade Peter from returning to the boat to go fishing, urging him not to go backwards after all we have experienced these past three years with Jesus. Surely he was the messiah, surely he would deliver us… and then… as those days past… I wonder, how would she have felt, when Peter came to tell her that he had indeed met and sat and eaten and talked with Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias? How she would have felt when Peter told her about the way Jesus asked him three times if he loved him, and three times instructed him to feed his sheep… one request for every denial? How would she have felt over those coming years as the movement of Jesus followers grew, and as Peter took such a central part in it all, as Peter argued for the inclusion of the Gentiles having been visited by the Spirit of their Lord? And how, finally, would she have felt when her husband – like her Messiah – was executed by the imperial force that so opposed the kingdom of God? And what, I wonder… did she do after? She, a daughter of Zion, and a disciple of the risen Christ, who God rejoiced over with gladness, renewed in love, and exulted over with loud singing.
What was it like, to live as one who had come into the orbit of the Messiah of the GOD WHO IS SALVATION?
We can only wonder what that was like for her… but we aren’t left with wondering alone. We aren’t left with speculation and imagination alone – for she is not the only one to come into Jesus’ orbit… We too are found there. This assembly of those who have bounced into Jesus, who have come into his orbit, we too have had our lives changed, we too have been called, we too have become his body. So I wonder, what can you teach me – and what we can teach each other - What is it like, to live as one who has come into the orbit of the Messiah of the GOD WHO IS SALVATION?
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