“He laid hands on each of them and cured them” (Luke 4:40).
In the final years of her life, especially after my father died, my mother lived in two realms.
The nursing home staff called it the “sunset syndrome,” a phenomenon identified by agitation and disorientation among some elderly or medicated residents in the late afternoon and early evening. My mother was quite specific in her description of it. A line appeared along the wall. It was the kingdom line. Below was here, on earth, above it was that other realm where my father now lived. Their 54 years of marriage had defined her, and when he died, my mother gradually refocused her attention from this world to the next.
In today’s Gospel reading, we find specific mention of the time of day. Jesus is at Peter’s house in Capernaum near the lake. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law (the single reference that opens our imagination to the fact that Peter, our first pope, was a married man and that his wife’s mother lived with them). At sunset, everyone in town with a sick person brought them to Jesus and he healed them, including those possessed by demons.
In the fading light of day, a time when many elderly feel vulnerable against the growing darkness and the long night ahead, when householders lock doors against intruders, when anxious children want bedtime stories and extra affection before sleep overtakes them, Jesus moves among them quieting their fears and removing their suffering. They enter the special zone of his love at the hour of diminishment, when death’s shadow lingers and we feel powerless. God is with us. There is nothing to be afraid of.
It must have been a long day for Jesus, but he is up before sunrise, out in a quiet place where he can pray. The rising sun and gathering light along the horizon strengthen him. Life’s promise survives the darkest night and a new day is upon us. Night brings sadness, but joy comes with the dawn. The kingdom of God is at hand.