Ignacio is a monk serving in an impoverished orphanage. Since he was a child, he has had a great dream and continues to have incredible passion to pursue his dream. Ignacio has dreamed of becoming a luchador, a masked wrestler. He spends every waking moment thinking about his dream to become a luchador. He painstakingly assembled a wrestling costume complete with shiny, red boots and a red cape. He practices his “moves” in the cemetery each day. He admires the local luchador celebrity, Ramses. He daydreams in chapel about new ways to tweak his costume or new moves that he can perfect.
In the children’s movie, Nacho Libre, Ignacio finally musters the courage to pursue his dream. With the help of his tag-team partner, “Esquelito” (Skeleton), Ignacio enters the ring under his new persona, Nacho. Despite his great passion and new friendship with his scrawny, tawny tag-team partner, Nacho loses match after match.
Esquelito tells Nacho that he might know someone who can help. He knows a “water gypsy” who can tell them where to find eagle eggs. Esquelito believes that by eating these eggs, Nacho will gain “eagle powers” and become an unstoppable wrestler. Convinced, Nacho scales a perilous 100 foot tall cliff, finds the eagle’s nest, grabs an eagle egg the size of cantaloupe, and in a scene that makes me gag every time, drinks the raw yolk of the massive egg. Nacho is now confident that he can mount up with wings like eagles and emerge victorious in the wrestling ring. The next night, Esquelito and Nacho have another wrestling match and they lose again.
Very frustrated by his losses, Nacho lifts up a prayer to God, “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?” Nacho begins to feel abandoned by the God he has spent his whole life serving.
Our reading from Isaiah is also speaking to a people who have felt abandoned by God and are wearied from their search for God’s presence. The land of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Judeans who inhabited that land were carried off into exile to Babylon. Their great passion is returning to their homeland, in seeing Jerusalem restored, and the Temple of God rebuilt. After years and years of waiting and praying to no avail, the exiled Judeans have grown weary. They begin to wonder if it is worth it to keep dreaming of returning to their land. They begin to doubt that God cares whether or not they return to the land. Some even doubt that God exists when the gods of the Babylonians seem to be the ones shaping history.
It is in this context that the prophet assures the people that God alone creates and sustains the universe and it is this God who “…gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” God does indeed answer their prayers and relieves their weariness by delivering them again to the land of Israel, just as God had done so many years ago with their ancestors who fled Egypt.
Peter’s mother-in-law, whom we can call Sarah, is also weary, but this time with fever. We don’t know how long she has been ill, but in a time long before antibiotics, we can trust that any sickness that leaves someone bedridden was feared to be potentially lethal. As she is waiting to get better her son-in-law’s new friend, Jesus, comes into the house, holds her hand, and tells her to get up. Immediately after she gets up, she begins to serve her son-in-law and his friends.
Unfortunately, this text is often misunderstood for the type of service Peter’s mother-in-law, Sarah, gives. When we read this short, 2-verse story it might look a little like this:
Peter, Jesus, and some of the other disciples come to Peter’s house after a long day and they are hungry. They sit down at the dining room table for lunch, but no one comes even after Peter calls out, “Hellooooo? We’re hungry over here!” They soon discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick, Jesus promptly heals her, and she does what the boys have been desiring for her to do the whole time- namely, make them a meal.
Sarah is called into something so much greater than that. She joins in service to and with Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of God’s very near presence. The Gospel of Mark pushes forward with the rhythm of a rapid, staccato snare drum. Jesus is baptized by John and hits the ground running in his ministry. He is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by Satan. After that no-doubt exhausting experience, the angels serve Jesus. Jesus walks along the lakeshore in Capernaum and calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. They join in service of Jesus and the Gospel of God. Together, they go to the synagogue where Jesus teaches and casts out an unclean spirit. Then, they head to Peter’s house where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law.
Sarah joins the ranks of those who are committed to proclaiming God’s promise of strength for those who are weary- that God will not abandon those who are without hope or help. She joins in this ministry with Peter, Andrew, James, John, and even the angels themselves. Jesus renews her strength so she can share the message of God that renews the strength of all weary people.
Back to Nacho. Ignacio has lost hope in himself and God. He has great passion to become a luchador, but in his words, he is a “stinky warrior.” He has desired eagle powers to have success in the ring, but has failed over and over again. When he is most down, he receives a prophetic proclamation from his friend, Sister Encarnación. When she finds out about Ignacio’s love for wrestling, she warns him that such fighting is often sinful as it begets pride, greed, and vanity. Distraught, Ignacio asks her, “Is it always a sin to fight?” She thoughtfully answers, “No. If you fight for something noble, or for someone who needs your help… then God will bless you…”
Ignacio then realizes that he has had such passion for wrestling, but he never thought about what or whom he should be wrestling for. He resolves to wrestle with the same passion, but now whatever money he makes in the endeavor, he would give to the children of the orphanage.
Nacho enters the ring again and with the cheers of his beloved children supporting him, Nacho wrestles. This time he wrestles not for himself, but for the children that he so greatly cares for. Miraculously, Nacho is no longer a “stinky warrior,” but a full-fledged luchador going toe-to-toe with one of the greatest luchadors in the country.
We too may feel weary. Weary from illness, weary from waiting, weary from working, weary from caring, weary from praying. God’s message to Isaiah’s people is our message too. God will mount us up with wings of eagles and we will not grow weary. God will give us strength to go on and to join in the world-changing proclamation of God’s very near kingdom. Along with Peter, Andrew, James, John, the angels, Peter’s mother-in-law, Nacho the luchador, and all the saints who have gone before us, God is lifting us up to serve Christ and all the people of God. When we wrestle for God, we can be sure that God will renew our strength and mount us up with wings like eagles. Amen.