Mark 1:29-39 can be found here...
The ministry of Jesus is moving fast. To recap: Just four weeks ago, we read of John in the wilderness, and Jesus presenting himself for a baptism of repentance. Jesus was dunked in the waters of the Jordan, and God put the divine claim upon him:
“You are my Beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.”
Next, Jesus was calling to fishermen mending their nets, inviting them to fish for people instead.
And last week, Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum with a voice of authority… he spoke not as a scold, telling you everything that was wrong with you, but as someone who was on your side. Someone you really wanted to listen to. Someone who might just be able to drive out your demons.
Which brings us here: Immediately after leaving the synagogue, Jesus goes to the home of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James and John, are along for the ride.
Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. She’s in bed with a fever.
We don’t know exactly what is going on with this woman, though we can guess that a fever at minimum, was a sign of infection. You or I would be headed off to the walk-in for antibiotics. In first century Palestine, that’s not an option. An infection… whether caused by a wound or an airborne illness such as bronchitis or influenza…it would be a serious matter, most of all for the very young and the very old.
She is probably seriously ill.
And of course, they tell Jesus. Possibly because Jesus is a compassionate listener. But more likely because, Jesus has already earned their trust.
Preaching. Teaching. Healing. Praying. Jesus is doing all these things. And his still-small band of close followers already trusts completely that Jesus will be able to do something about Peter’s mother-in-law.
And he does. He takes her by the hand. He raises her up. She is well. She feels so well, in fact, that she begins to serve them.
There’s that word again. “Serve.” In the Greek, diekonei, that word from which we get “deacon.” So, yes, it is possible that her service took the form of bringing food to her guests—a timeless expression of hospitality in every culture. But it is equally likely that Peter’s mother-in-law entered into Jesus’ ministry. She served, in the same way as the other followers were learning to serve, as Jesus himself serves.
Part of the call of following Jesus is taking part in his ministry.
To preach, teach, feed, heal, and pray. To bring the good news of God’s reign to the people. And the good news that is healing comes in many forms. For some, it’s the relief of a fever and a return of strength to the body. Maybe, month after month with good bloodwork. For others, it may be something else entirely.
Years ago, I got it into my head that this fever of Peter’s mother-in-law might have had a very particular origin. Realizing that the presence of a mother-in-law strongly implies the presence of a wife, and possibly children, I wondered whether this woman had a different kind of fever, a different kind of sickness. I wondered whether she was heartsick, enraged, horrified, mortified, that her son-in-law had abruptly left both family and obligations for life on the road with Jesus. I wondered whether she was sick with fear and worry.
So, what if Jesus’ reaching out of his hand to Peter’s mother-in-law is the kind of healing that says, “Don’t be afraid; you will not be abandoned”?
I spent last week at a conference for women in church leadership. It was designed to help us know and understand ourselves better, so that we could be, not only more effective as pastors and leaders, but also so that we could be more authentic in all our relationships. One of the premises of the system we were studying was that each of us has a particular childhood wound… a way in which our needs were not met as small children. Even though we may have had wonderful parents, none of us is immune to this wound.
We may have learned… it wasn’t ok to be vulnerable or to trust anybody.
Or, it wasn’t ok to assert ourselves.
It wasn’t ok to make mistakes.
Or, it wasn’t ok to have needs.
Maybe we grew up believing it wasn’t ok to have our own feelings or identity. Or maybe we came to believe it wasn’t ok to be too happy. Or to be comfortable in the world. Or to trust ourselves. Maybe we grew up believing, we should never depend on anybody for anything.
We all came to adulthood with one of these wounds, or so the theory goes.
But here comes Jesus, and you know, of course, what he would say to us.
He would say, “Rise up my daughter: you will not be abandoned.”
“Rise up, my son: your presence matters.”
“Rise up, my child: you are good. You are wanted.”
“Rise up, for you are loved for who you are, and not merely for what you do.”
“Rise up: you are seen for who you are.”
“Rise up: I care about your needs, and they are not a problem.”
“Rise up: you are safe.”
“Rise up, my child: you can depend on others. You can depend on me.”
The next thing we see in the gospel is that all the people are streaming to where Jesus is. They surround the little house he is staying in. Everyone, it seems, has something for which they need Jesus’ healing.
We are all here because, to some extent or another, we have felt the call to follow Jesus. To preach, teach, feed, heal, and pray right alongside him. To bring the good news of God’s reign to the people—to let them know that heaven starts here, and now. And sometimes, that means, not only being agents of healing for others, but receiving healing, letting God offer it to us.
We may not feel that we have that particular and amazing gift of Jesus’, of being able to lay hands on someone to relieve them of a fever or cast out a demon. But isn’t it possible that we can offer one another other kinds of healing? That we can say to one another, “I see you.”
“You are loved for who you are.”
“You matter to me, to us.”
“You don’t have to go through whatever it is alone.”
Let me say it to you now. You are loved. You matter. You don’t have to go through whatever it is alone. You are God’s beloved child, and that is enough.
Thanks be to God. Amen.