Monday, October 19, 2020

Peter's Mother-in-Law

One of the stories that we looked at yesterday involved Jesus going to Peter's house and healing his mother-in-law, who was sick in bed with a fever. She then got up and began to serve them. 

When we hear this story referenced in relationship to Peter, it is often just to show that he was a married man, in contrast to Paul, who speaks of his singleness. We use this to talk about marriage and singleness and how both can be a blessing in the church and so on. But the story itself begs a question: 

What was Peter's mother-in-law doing at his house to begin with?

In Jewish culture, the woman would leave her family and go and live with her husband's family. He would build an addition onto his family home for their new love, and it would be their own little space. That means that Peter's wife would have left her mother behind and moved in with Peter and his mother, but here we are with Peter's mother-in-law in his home. And this may, or may not, tell us something important about Peter.

The simplest answer, perhaps, is that she was visiting. Families visit one another; I'm pretty sure they always have. And while I don't have a mother-in-law (yet - c'mon God!), I do have a grandmother, and she knows her way around my kitchen. It's not uncommon for a visiting familial woman to find her way to the kitchen to cook and serve. And given what we know about Jewish families, I wouldn't put it at all past Peter's mother-in-law to both visit and prepare meals in his kitchen. So maybe it's as simple as that. If it is, it doesn't shed a whole lot of new light on Peter as we know him.

But what if it's not that simple?

What if Peter's mother-in-law is living with him because she is widowed? This would tell us something about the redeemer-kinsman in Peter. He extends his love not just to his wife, but to her entire family, and he becomes a caretaker for a woman who has no other caretaker in the world. This might mean that Peter's wife is an only child, that she has no brothers. At least, that she has no living brothers, for her brothers would have built additions onto her family home, and a widowed mother would be taken care of there. But perhaps Peter stepped in for missing or failing brothers and became a protector for his widowed mother-in-law. 

What if Peter's mother-in-law is living with him because she is divorced? This would tell us something about Peter, too. It would tell us that he believes in grace, that he believes in redemption, that he's unwilling to let even a woman suffer disgrace, but that he is willing to pick her up and restore her to a family position when she's lost hers. 

What if Peter's mother-in-law is living with him because he's gone so much in his travels with Jesus that his family feels abandoned by him? This would be important, too. It would speak to the kind of disciple he was, but it would also give us pause in light of Paul's words about family relations in Christ. Did Peter forsake his family for Christ? This raises all kinds of further questions if it's the case. 

What if Peter's mother-in-law wasn't living with him, but what if he was living with her? What if Peter had somehow fallen out with his own family, had been abandoned or discarded or orphaned? We know that he had a brother; maybe Andrew was on his own, too. And so maybe, with no family of his own, Peter built an addition onto his wife's home and became adopted. If Peter has already been adopted once, that certainly changes how we read his understanding of being a disciple. It changes the way that he follows Jesus, doesn't it? 

What if Peter is living with his mother-in-law because he is a prodigal son? What if he's run away from home in search of better things? This, too, changes our understanding of Peter the disciple, particularly in some of the scenes we see him have with Jesus. 

This may seem like a silly question, but if we knew the answer, it might change the way we read the Scriptures themselves. It might tell us something we never knew about Peter that might enlighten for us something we've been missing in his testimony. So it's definitely something to think about, although the reality is that we may never know (until we get to ask him).  

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