Simon Peter’s Wife: A Mystery Unraveled

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time | Year B | February 4, 2024

Last week we saw Jesus the exorcist, casting out unclean spirits. This week we witness Jesus the healer.  Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law in today’s gospel story.  I have a favorite mother-in-law joke.  It goes like this: A man went on a vacation to the Middle East with most of his family including his mother-in-law.  During their vacation, while they were visiting Jerusalem, the man’s mother-in-law died.  With the death certificate in hand, the man went to the American Consulate Office to make arrangements to send the body back to the US for burial.  The Consul told the man that the sending of a body back to the States for burial is very, very expensive.  It could cost as much as $5,000.  The Consul continued, “In most cases the person responsible for the remains normally decides to bury the body here. This would only cost $500.”   The man thought for some time and answered, “I don’t care how much it will cost to send the body back; that’s what I want to do.”   The Consul, after hearing this, said, “You must have loved your mother-in-law very much, considering the difference in price.” “No, it’s not that,” said the man.  “I know of a case many years ago of a person that was buried here in Jerusalem.  On the third day he arose from the dead.  I just can’t take that chance.”

It’s interesting that Simon Peter had a mother-in-law, that presumes that he had a wife.  We know almost nothing about Peters wife however because she is not mentioned in the Gospel.  St. Jerome, suggested that Peter was a widower at this time, else his wife would have been helping with the serving.  We just don’t know.  In any event, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever.  It was a fever, not leprosy or paralysis or blindness or lameness, she wasn’t dying as far as we can tell.  God is interested even in ordinary illnesses.  God cares about your cold, your cough and your flu.  God is not just for major trauma.  From this we can learn an important lesson…don’t wait till disaster strikes to call upon the Lord.  People do that a lot…ignore God until there is a major, major problem, then ask for help.  You can bring your ordinary problems to God, and he can help you up.  This fever kept Peter’s mother-in-law from serving, from offering hospitality, cooking, conversing.  Call upon God’s grace whenever you need to.

One of the sacraments of the Church is the anointing of the sick.  We have a special oil just for this—the “O.I.”, oleum infirmorum.  Any priest can come and lay hands on your head and pray and anoint you with this oil for healing on your forehead and on your hands anytime you are seriously ill.  You don’t have to be dying.  If you are young and healthy right now, remember this for when you get older, because everyone gets sick or has family members that are affected by sickness at some times in their lives.  The sacrament of the anointing of the sick used to be called the “Last Rites” or “extreme unction”, because people would do just that, wait until they were dying to ask for it.  This anointing is for any serious illness, whenever death is even a possibility.  Before surgery, for example.  Any operation that requires general anesthesia.  The sacrament also conveys the grace of absolution for sin, sins are forgiven through the anointing of the sick. That’s why the dying call for it, even the unconscious can have this grace.  Vatican II reemphasized that the sacrament is meant to convey healing, not just absolution.  The sacrament of healing is repeatable; if you be anointed again for the same illness if it does not go away or gets progressively worse.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.  During the daytime is preferred. (Today, Feb. 3rd, I will give the blessing of throats.  Next week, Feb. 11, is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.  I will be available to anyone who wants receive the Anointing of the sick after Mass.)

The healing brings up a good theological question…why does God allow sickness and suffering at all?

Our first reading today is from the Book of Job, a man who knew all about pain and suffering.  Job, if you recall, was a man who was faithful to God and been blessed in every way.  Then in rapid succession Job loses his home, his children, his livelihood and his health.  Bishop Robert Barron comments, “There is no other text in the literature of the world that so bravely and uncompromisingly looks suffering in the eye.”  I won’t go through the whole story, but we learn from the text that Job is allowed to suffer so that his love for God, which is absolutely genuine and true, may be tested and demonstrated and rewarded in the heavenly realms.

John Paul wrote an encyclical on suffering in 1984.   (Salvifici Doloris—the salvific meaning of suffering).  The Pope said suffering is almost inseparable from man’s earthly existence.  Suffering is part of the human condition, the condition of being mortal creatures, Sorry but that’s the reality, remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

I would like to give you some of the JPII’s ideas on the subject of suffering.  The first is perhaps obvious.  Redemption was accomplished through the cross, that is, through suffering.  God himself has suffered in order to bring about a tremendous good.  By faith we are shown that suffering in God’s plan is a pathway to the salvation of souls.

Another point is that suffering does not mean we have done anything wrong.  “It is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of punishment.”  Suffering may be a test, or it may be a call for deeper conversion, but never should we assume it is a punishment for personal sin.

The last point is that Christ showed us how to accept the cross by suffering voluntarily and suffering innocently.  For suffering to have any value, it has to be motivated by love and accepted in faith.

If you are in need of healing, listen again to today’s Psalm response: “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted…The Lord heals the broken hearted, and binds up all their wounds”

—Fr. James M. Glass