My mother walked into my grandparents’ house sometime in 1994, and my grandfather Pop’s gruff voice called to her, “C’mere, I want to show you something.” He directed mom to the kitchen cabinets, opened them incredulously, and there, from bottom to top, end to end, were stacks of canned tuna fish. Dozens and dozens of cans. For weeks, it seems, my grandmother Boo had been going to the grocery store, forgetting why she’d made the trip, and at a loss for what else to do, buying tuna fish. It was the first sign that something was wrong.
Often when this passage from Mark comes up in the lectionary—this account in which Peter brings Jesus home to meet his mother-in-law—it gives rise to all manner of mother-in-law jokes. I happen to have the world’s best mother-in-law, and consequently I find mother-in-law jokes to be boorish and uncouth, especially from the pulpit. I just don’t understand why some of my fellow preachers would tell a joke like, “Do you know the punishment for bigamy? Two mothers-in-law.” Or, “Jim and Bob were having a drink after work, when their mothers-in-law came up in conversation. Jim said, ‘My mother-in-law is an angel,’ to which Bob replied, ‘Lucky.’” (Think about that one for a moment.) But I’m not going to tell such jokes in this sermon, because they are distractions.