What’s the Story – Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Several weeks ago, my 5 year-old made a very astute observation about the overall story of the Bible. “Daddy,” he said,” why doesn’t Jesus ever eat lunch?” He was right, you know. We talk occasionally about Jesus having dinner with all sorts and conditions of people and we even have a story about Jesus serving breakfast to his disciples between the resurrection and the ascension. But no lunch. At least not any recorded.

Now, this may seem like just a little-kid question, but it masks a nearly universal concern. If Jesus didn’t eat lunch, then is there a chance that his life – and the life of his followers – is ultimately not that similar to ours. How can we find a place in and among the followers of Jesus if doing so means giving up something as basic as lunch? Its just not human.

Again, this may seem a bit absurd, but I believe it is an important consideration. How often, in the midst of expressing a reasonable admiration and even deference for those giants of the faith that have come before, do we ultimately alienate and de-humanize them by failing to take account of the basic elements of their human existence? Whether in the lives of the saints or of the Incarnate God himself, we must seek out these similarities or run the risk of losing allowing the whole story to slip into reality.

Among earliest church thinkers, Iraneus of Lyon had the most to say about this. He postulated what’s called the “Theology of Recapitulation”, wherein he suggests that during his 33 years of earthly ministry Jesus checked all the important boxes of human life (love, anger, education, work, even lunch). Whether such were recorded in the Bible or not, it was imperative that he did, so that he could claim to in fact be “fully human” as  he presented his humanity to God through the work of salvation.

I’ve always had a little bit of problem with this as a literal argument (as has almost every woman that I’ve talked to on the subject). But I appreciate the effort. Humans have come up with so many authentically human experiences that no single life of 33 years, not even God’s, could hope to encompass them all.

Far more attractive to me are the smaller hints that we find throughout the Gospel that suggest that the lives of Jesus and his disciples were much more human than we sometimes give them credit for being. Here I have in mind (and I know you were eagerly waiting for me to actually get to this week’s Bible story) things like this week’s text about Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law.

On the one hand, this is a pretty simple healing story. Jesus raises-up a sick woman who shows her gratitude by serving him. But, on the other hand, this is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. That means Simon Peter, first among the apostles of Jesus, rock upon which the church was founded, quasi-mythological hero of the faith, had a family. He had a real wife with a real mother. He probably had the same kind of conflicted relationship with her that many have with their own mother-in-laws. Simon was human.

And for that I am very thankful.


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