Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Fever of Life ...

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus rebuked the fever from which Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering and it left her (Luke 4:39).

The first reading provides an interesting juxtaposition, helpful perhaps in probing the riches of the Gospel reading. Paul writes to the quarrelsome Corinthian Christians:

… you are still of the flesh.
While there is jealousy and rivalry among you,
are you not of the flesh … (1 Corinthians 3:3)

Are we not invited by this juxtaposition of readings to see the Gospel’s reference to the fever and the apostle’s reference to the flesh as convergent. For is not life itself, the unregenerate life which Paul characterizes with the term flesh, a feverish existence? One thinks of the passage in the First Epistle of John, summing up worldliness: “… the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life …” (1 John 2:16). What is this if not the fever of life, life Paul characterizes as the life of the flesh?

It is, alas, a fever that afflicts more than just Peter’s mother-in-law; it afflicts us all. This understanding of the reference to fever helps frame Jesus’ reaction to the affliction in Luke’s account. Jesus rebukes the fever, as does Paul in his own way. It is, one might say, precisely this fever that Christ came to cure, and to do so, not by cooling its fervor, but by rescuing it from the human soap opera and redirecting toward the God in whose image we are made, whose living Icon Jesus is.

If the Pauline reference to the flesh and the Lucan reference to fever are allowed to converge, what we have is a picture of the human condition in which jealousy and rivalry are much more than merely two of the countless sins to which we are all prone. Rather in a sense they epitomize our situation. René Girard’s analysis of the problems associated with what he calls “mimetic desire” explore the fever from which we humans suffer in a particularly compelling way. Christ rebukes the fever by becoming the object of our mimetic desire, replacing the model-rival which St. Paul has found so destructively at work in the Corinthian community.

There is deeper meaning as well in the way Peter's mother-in-law responded once the fever has left her: she rose and began to serve. There is here a hint of the Resurrection and Pentecost. This is simply what happens when we are cured of the fever of life; we arise from the preoccupations of the melodrama and begin to serve. Everyone freed from the fever is, by that fact, assigned a mission.

All of this comes together again in a most moving way in the famous prayer that John Henry Newman prayed:

May the Lord support us all the day long,
Till the shades lengthen and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.

Then in his mercy may he give us
a safe lodging
and a holy rest,
and peace at last.

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