Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter's Wife,
Painted by John Bridges (1818-1854)
Executed in 1839
Oil on canvas
© Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever
Luke 4: 38-44
Leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever and they asked him to do something for her. Leaning over her he rebuked the fever and it left her. And she immediately got up and began to wait on them.
At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to him, and laying his hands on each he cured them. Devils too came out of many people, howling, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.
When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place. The crowds went to look for him, and when they had caught up with him they wanted to prevent him leaving them, but he answered, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, because that is what I was sent to do.’ And he continued his preaching in the synagogues of Judaea.
Reflection on the Painting on Copper
Today we hear the story of Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with a great fever. Jesus commanded the sickness to leave and the sickness was healed so quickly that she was able to immediately resume household duties such as serving food to the guests. She went straight back to her ordinary, humble tasks after being healed. In the ancient world, fever was treated as a distinct illness and not just considered to be the symptom of various illnesses. Whilst healing took place in the literal sense as described in the Gospel, the essence of the reading lies in the importance to intercede for others in their need (just like Jesus was brought to the house by Simon), whilst realising we all are all among the sick too.
Today’s painting by John Bridges, shows the influence of the ‘Nazarenes’, a group of pious German and Austrian painters active near Rome during Bridges’ stay there. The Nazarenes had a great fascination with Italian Renaissance art and painted primarily highly religious subjects set in classical compositions. Bridges was mainly known as portrait painter, but here we see a rather unusual full composition he did: Jesus is healing the woman (one straight line from Christ’s head to his hand, to the sick woman’s hands, to the lady’s hand who cares for her), Simon Peter is looking on as do some of the other apostles (painted with halos), a young lady kneels as she recognises Christ’s miracle, crowds are seen gathering on the right for Christ to do more healing…
The sick mother-in-law is healed, yes, but that also directly impacts all the other figures in the painting. Healing affects the community directly. As she was healed, she didn’t just relish in her own personal enjoyment of being healed; no, she could serve her guests and community again… and so she did…
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