Category Archives: Fiona McDougal

Triptych: Who was this man? – Fiona McDougal

This Reflection (sermon) was written and presented by Fiona McDougal, at St Andrew’s on The Terrace, Wellington on 9 November 2014.

The “triptych” of readings – Simon’s mother-in-law, A hired man and One of the companions – were read by members of the congregation. You can download the Order of Service here.

The community (congregation) sang a verse of Mary Pearson’s hymn before and between each of the readings.

The reflection is based on the day’s scripture reading, Mark 1: 29-38 NRSV

Introduction: In 1968 Italian archaeologists made some fascinating discoveries in the ancient town of Capernaum on the North West coast of the Sea of Galilee. A Fifth century church had been built over a much earlier church. That earlier church had been built around what had originally been a one room of a private house. That room seems to have been used from the 2nd half of the 1st century. Unusually, the walls of the room had been plastered, indicating that it had been a public meeting place. Scratched on the plaster were prayers using the name of Jesus. Since earliest times it seems then, Christians treated this space as holy, believing it to be the house of Simon Peter and the place where Jesus based himself for the start of his ministry. Today a Franciscan church has been built on top of those ruins. [See photo]


At the centre is a wrought iron partition and glass ceiling which allows the pilgrim to see the remains of the original 1st century site. How mind-blowing it would be to look through that thick glass and the layers of the sacred past! How amazing to imagine that perhaps this may have been the setting for happenings out of which today’s gospel narrative was created. Travel with me as in your mind’s eye we enter the story world of Mark’s Gospel and seek glimpse of the Jesus portrayed there.

Simon’s mother-in-law

One minute I was throwing off the blankets, the next clutching them close to me as I shivered in a cold sweat. My mind ran feverishly over recent events and my heart beat rapidly. I’ve always hated change and since Jesus was around, everything had been in a turmoil. I couldn’t understand why Simon and Andrew were so entranced by him.

Then I heard the voices of the menfolk returning from the synagogue and my name being mentioned. They came into the room and to my surprise, I felt a gentle hand hold mine. A warm energy ran up my arm and into my panicky heart. I felt the healing of that touch spread through my whole body. For a never ending moment we were like that, then I felt my strength return as he raised me up out of the bed.

I blinked a few times in astonishment, and looked around at the familiar faces, embarrassed to find them all watching me. Then I muttered something about food and they stood back to let me pass as I rushed outside. There was something grounding about the familiar process of setting the fish and bread and some stuffed olives on the plate for them all. It had been such a strange experience.

Since then I make sure Jesus has the tastiest treats and the most succulent snacks. And though he doesn’t say much, I can tell from his smile that he appreciates what I’ve done. That gives me joy in the work I do about the house every day.

Now when I’m worried, I remember his touch, and the warm energy that flowed into my heart and I feel a calm grow within me.

A hired man

I went out of curiosity really, after he came and James and John upped and left us. Zebedee had to run the boat again. One old man and us young lads – we had our work cut out. I’d heard about the way he taught in the synagogue, so simple, but deep and real. It went right through you, and you pondered and puzzled over it forever. They said as well that he could heal people who were sick in mind and body.

So I followed the others that Sabbath evening and we gathered expectantly outside Simon and Andrew’s house with the rest. You’d think such a crowd would be noisy, especially us fishermen who like a bit of a laugh and a carry on. But no. When Jesus and his friends came out, a luminous hush fell on us.

In the background we could hear the waves lapping on the shore. A few latecomers settled themselves and their sleepy children on mats as the moon rose and oil lamps flickered. Quietly we watched Jesus as he went from person to person, speaking gently and touching each one in turn. Sometimes he talked more firmly, seeming to forestall a wild response. But always he was calm and steady, as if there was all the time in the world and nothing that mattered more than these people, and this place and this moment.

We heard later of great crowds, people crushing in on Jesus, challenging his teaching, and arguments with the authorities. It wasn’t like that that night. I expected miracles, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter much whether people were healed or not. That night, just being there, all of us together in his presence, was enough.

The Sea of Galilee can be rough, storms blow up in a moment and our crew has had its ups and downs too. When I feel the boat start to dip and dive, my stomach knots up, and I hang on to the side and we look to each other for reassurance.

Then I remember that evening when we were gathered in the presence of Jesus. I hold the memory of those peaceful moments inside and they steady me and give me courage as we pull together on the oars and struggle home.

One of the companions

We woke and found him gone. After all we had seen and heard, our whispered discussions the night before had been full of wonder and possibility. Now he was gone. Quickly we pulled some clothes on and went out to look for him.

A shepherd boy pointed to the hills when we asked if he’d seen him, so we followed the track at a half run, scouring the hillside for a glimpse of him. We were breathless and exhausted when we saw Jesus at last, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the water and the villages and towns of Galilee. He was deep in prayer, so we stopped some distance away, reluctant to go closer. Passing a water bottle around, we sat down to catch our breath.

He must’ve sensed our presence, because in a little while he beckoned us to come close.

Somewhat ashamed of our impetuous actions, we straggled over. Someone blurted out “Everyone is looking for you”. After a moment’s pause Jesus looked at us all and said we were to go with him as he took the message to the other towns of Galilee.

It was obvious that something had become clear for him during his time of reflection on that windswept hillside. Though we were taken aback, his intention was firm and we went with him.

It wasn’t until years later that I too learnt to slow down and open myself to the wisdom inside in crucial moments, as he did. Only slowly did we realise that each action of his was based on the deep connection he experienced.

His preaching and healing, his passion for justice, the whole of his life’s energy and direction came from that source. It was in the blood that flowed in his veins and every inch of his body.

He lived the message. So I try to live that way too.



Facing the Challenge: Where Jesus stayed, in Peter’s house in Capernaum

Franciscan cyberspot “Capernaum the town of Jesus”

progressive faith stories: Fiona’s story

againstthestreamBelonging here was a gradual process for me. Becoming more involved meant taking the risk of openness and trust. Fiona McDougal, St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Glimmers of the sacred in the form of individual conversations, moments of connection in worship and shared meals drew me on.

In particular being at the series of services over Easter offered a way to integrate the psychological abuse I had endured at work in Scotland within a larger story. Holding that painful period of my life alongside the story of Jesus’ death, the losses of others in the community, and the pain of the world, on Good Friday has been very healing. Continue reading progressive faith stories: Fiona’s story