Sunday, February 08, 2009
A Healing Touch: Monologue-Sermon on Mark 1:29-29
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.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons...
~ Mark 1:29-32
A Monologue Sermon of Simon's Son
I’ve always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, from the time I was a tiny boy. I remember peeking out of my mother’s arms in the early morning, while it was still dark, to see my father and my uncle Andrew, faces shining in the firelight, ropes draped over their shoulders, saying goodbye before heading down to the sea to climb into their boats.
My father was a genius with the nets. In fact it was always a point of contention—even competition—between him and my uncle Andrew. Who could find the perfect spot, the place where, when the nets were cast, almost immediately the men in the boat would begin to feel the rustle and sway that told them, ah. Here it is! The place where the fish are today! Ah. Tonight my wife will smile warmly at me, because the proceeds from this catch will feed our family for a week, maybe even two.
I saw the joy my father took in the catch, the way he would throw back his head and murmur a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord: “How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious!” I saw the satisfaction he had in a hard day’s labor, that made his muscles ache, yes, but also made them strong. I saw the contentment he found in providing for his family. I saw all these things, and I thought: that is what I will do. I will follow my father down to the sea and into the boats.
It was grandmother who first let us know that something was wrong. We lived with her, my mother’s mother, in her home. And every day, the routine was the same. The men left for the boats, and the women left for the well, and the market. We children busied ourselves with our tasks; the girls might weave, or bake bread, while we boys would set to memorizing our psalms. I was the oldest, so I was in charge. Thanks to me all my brothers know every psalm of our ancestor David by heart. Psalm 147: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” After the psalms, our other chores—bringing fuel for the fire, repairing the mud roof, even going down to the lakeside to repair and clean the nets. The women, my mother and grandmother, came home first, and began preparations for the main meal of the day, with the girls helping them. And we boys would go to the seaside to await the return of our father and uncle, and their boats.
But on that day… as soon as we saw our grandmother, we knew something was different. The routine did not hold. The four adults left for their various labors, but soon, too soon, my grandmother walked back in the door, and my mother was not with her. My brothers and sisters and I stopped in our tasks, confused and quiet. We knew families whose days had been disrupted and whose lives had been forever turned upside down by an accident… mostly by drowning. Everyone knows about the wild and unpredictable storms that spring up on the Sea of Galilee. I looked at my grandmother’s ashen face and became convinced: my father had drowned. Or my uncle. Or both. There was a heavy silence in the air, and my grandmother collapsed beside the hearth.
“Is my father…?” I began to ask the terrible question. I was the oldest; it was my responsibility to know, to ready to be the man of the house now, if my father was indeed dead. She shook her head and looked at me with tears pooled in her eyes. “No, boy. No. Don’t….” she hesitated, searching for a word…her voice was so strained, I almost didn’t recognize it. “Don’t … alarm yourselves,” she said. “Go on, go on,” and her voice resumed something of its normal tenor. “Do your work.”
So we did, my brothers and sisters and I. But the girls had lost the rhythm of their weaving. The boys were fitful and distracted. Where was our mother? What was wrong?
The hours crept by. It was time for the main meal, and neither our mother nor the men had returned, and our grandmother was alternately standing in the doorway or pacing back and forth, a look of dread on her face. There was no dinner. The girls began to whisper together, wondering if they should start the fire, fetch the water. But no one moved. We were all suspended, waiting.
It was dark when my mother returned. She wore her veil clutched close about her face, and when she took it off, she fell into my grandmother’s arms, and both women shook together, weeping, strangely silent. Minutes passed, and they pulled apart. My grandmother left the room without a word, stumbled to her bed, and turned her face to the wall.
My mother prepared a cold and hasty dinner, the tears still streaming down her face. My sisters helped her silently, as best they could. At last we all sat around the table, where we knew we would, finally, learn what act of fate or of God had turned our family’s life upside down.
My mother had washed her face. She was pale but her voice was calm though her eyes were still red. “Your father will not be coming home tonight,” she said. We waited. No one ate. Finally, I said, “Where is he, mother? Shall I go and find him?”
My mother looked at me and smiled. “No, Samuel. There is no need. I know where he is. He has left his boats and he and your uncle are following a wise man, a preacher.” We all tried to take this in. My father wasn’t coming home… why? Not because a sudden wind had come up on the Sea of Galilee, or because he had been swallowed by a great fish, but because… he had decided to follow some self-proclaimed prophet?
I jumped to my feet. One of the girls giggled, but when she saw the look in my eye, she stopped. “I’m going to get him.” I looked at my next oldest brother. “Benjamin, come with me.”
Then my mother spoke to me with a sharpness I had never before heard in her voice. No… not sharpness. Authority. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I did not need to be the man of the house. “Your father has made a choice. He is a good man, and we will see him again. But you will not go in search of him.”
We ate our meal in silence. Afterwards everyone helped to clear away the meal, and I too found my way to bed.
I dreamed strange dreams of fishing boats and nets, and then I discovered that I was in a net, not wriggling like the fish, but resting, enjoying the rocking, a baby in a net cradle. I swam to the surface as dawn neared and an odd and wrong day dawned… no father, no uncle saying goodbye, and my grandmother not moving from her bed. Only my mother rose, and took her water jar, and left the house.
As the day dragged on we realized that my grandmother had become ill. When my mother returned she went in to her and sat with her a long time, holding her hands and smoothing her brow. Now the girls did step forward to make the meal, and the boys too. Our family disruption had shifted the roles all around. Boys helped with cooking. Girls brought in the fuel for the fire. My mother was the head of the household.
That night my grandmother grew worse, and my mother huddled close to her and tried to ease what was now a raging fever, cooling her face with a rag dipped in water fresh from the well. I could hear my grandmother’s moaning from her fever dreams and visions, but nothing distinct. Every so often I would hear my mother say, “Hush, hush, it’s alright. We’re alright.”
The third day dawned grey and strange again, and now my mother did not leave but sent my sisters to the well. As the sun rose well in the sky the girls returned, and a moment later, just behind them, a group of men came and stood in the doorway. At the front were my father and my uncle! I didn’t know whether to laugh and embrace them, or to try to wrestle them to the ground and pound out my frustrations on them. Before I could decide my father approached me, and took me in his arms where I cried a long time. “There, there,” he said. “It’s alright. It’s alright.”
There was a man standing behind him; I almost hadn’t noticed. He was not a large man, but he had a strange kind of stillness about him that filled the room. My mother came away from my grandmother’s bedside, and, to my amazement, gave a deep bow to the man, welcoming him as a highly honored guest. Then she gestured to my grandmother’s bed. The man walked forward and bent over my grandmother. He murmured some words I couldn’t hear; then he reached out his hand. My grandmother—who had been either sleeping or delirious for nearly two days—reached back. When he pulled her to her feet, she looked at him a long time, her eyes clear, her fever gone, and she said, simply, “Welcome, rabbi.” She gestured to him to recline at the table, and began to prepare a feast that more than made up for our three days of makeshift meals.
Later than evening I sat outside with my grandmother beneath a fig tree. The man—his name was Jesus—was still inside our house, but so were dozens of neighbors, and more dozens stood outside, straining to see in the windows and doors. There were probably a hundred all told, all of them, come to see the rabbi, the preacher, all coming for his healing touch.
“Grandmother, what happened?” I asked. She shook her head and smiled, and was quiet a long time. Finally she said, “I had a fever, and he healed me. I had anger, and he healed that too.” And then she said, “You know your psalms boy. Say it with me. Psalm 147: ‘The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.’
I knew my father would be leaving again. I knew that he would follow Jesus. Now I had the beginning of an idea, the hint of an explanation, why. I’ve always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, from the time I was a tiny boy. I’ve always wanted to be that man, face shining in the firelight, ropes draped over my shoulder, heading down to the seaside to climb into the boat. My father tells me that now, he fishes for people, to make them followers of Jesus, followers of his way. I see the joy my father takes in the catch. I see all these things, and I think: this is what I will do. I will follow my father down to the sea and into the boats and wherever it is that Jesus takes him. Thanks be to God! Amen.