Year B Epiphany 5 Healing of Peter’s Mother in Law
Mark 1:29 – 39
Our gospel story for today is actually the continuation of the story we heard last week, the first healing story in Mark’s gospel. Here’s a recap: while Jesus was in the Temple teaching, and the people are amazed at his teachings, his teaching is much fuller than how the scribes teach. It’s like Jesus actually has the authority to teach them the scriptures and the Law, yet they can’t quite figure out who he is, and where this authority comes from. While he’s teaching, Jesus is verbally accosted by a man with an evil spirit. And Jesus simply orders the spirit out of the man, and the man is healed. There is an ironic twist in this amazing healing story. The evil spirit calls out to Jesus, recognizing that Jesus is the Holy One of God, even though the people who were there couldn’t see that!
After Jesus and the disciples leave the temple, it seems Simon Peter and Andrew have invited them back to their place for supper and they find that Peter’s mother in law is sick with a fever. They tell Jesus of her illness and he goes to her room and heals her. Fevers in pre-antibiotic times were often deadly; remember, this is centuries and centuries before antibiotics! Now, to better understand the fullness of this story, there are a couple of words in the original Greek that loose something in the translation. So, Jesus goes to the woman—another woman in the bible whose name is not given, she’s just identified through her son in law– and Jesus ‘lifts her up’ is the way the NRSV translates the Greek. That is somewhat misleading; Jesus doesn’t actually lift her out of the bed. The verb that is translated as ‘lifts up’ is better translated as “raised up”. And interestingly, “the verb to ‘raise up’ is used in (other) healing stories in Mark”1. Remember the story of the temple leader who comes to Jesus asking for healing for his daughter who is deathly ill—in fact by the time Jesus gets to his house, the people tell him he’s too late, she had died. Mark says Jesus ‘raises’ her up too, he raises the girl up from death, or near death.
What does Peter’s mother in law, do after she is healed, after she has been raised up by Christ? Verse 31: “Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.” — from deathly ill to being well enough to cook and serve a meal to Jesus and the other guests.
And again, we have a translation conundrum with the Greek –the English translation of ‘to serve’. Mark specifically uses the word diakoneo, which yes, in English means ‘to serve’. But diakoneo is an interesting choice of words. “… it is the same verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry later on in Mark’s gospel; chapter 10 verse 45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (diakoneo) others and give his life as a ransom for many.” (NLT) Diakoneo means much more than serving tables. Diakoneo is the root word from which we get the English word ‘Deacon’— as in one who gives their lives in service to others in God’s name. In fact, Peter’s mother in law is known in the church as the first Deacon—the first person to serve Jesus.
This woman chose to, wanted to serve Jesus and the others as a response for being raised from death. She had been restored to new life by Jesus, and showed her thanks in service to Jesus, giving to Jesus what she could give—hospitality. Lovingly providing food and serving it was her way of giving thanks to the Lord for, well, her life. She shows her gratitude by serving the one who gave her back her life. Out of her love, her gratitude for who Jesus was, and his healing, his saving her, that she wanted to give of herself to serve him.
But of course, she did! Wouldn’t you have done the same? And that’s what diakoneo is, serving our Lord out of our love for what the Lord has given us, which is, well everything! Remember that old doxology we used to sing as children—at least we did in the church I went to: All things comes of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.
Let me share another commentator’s way of saying this: Jesus freed Peter’s mother in law from her illness, restoring her “for a life of purpose, meaning and good works. Yes, good works, not those things that we do in the vain hope of justifying ourselves before God or others, but rather those things that we do as a response to the Gospel to serve our neighbour stemming from a sense of joy, love and freedom.”2
I do like that line: “those things that we do as a response to the Gospel”3. Not because we’re looking for brownie points from God for doing good things, because it really doesn’t work that way, we cannot earn God’s love! God loves us regardless. But we serve God as a response to God’s love for us. That’s what you do when you love someone, don’t you? You do for the ones you love—and we each do that in the ways that we each do best, each in our own way, we give — using our God given gifts and talents. Service, those things that we do as our way of loving God back, responding God’s love for us, the Creator God from who all things come. Diakoneo: those things we do as a response to Christ’s unwavering love, the one who gave his life for us, the one who came to show us the way back to becoming God’s holy people. It is what all Christians are called to, service in Christ’s name. And, we don’t have to go it alone, because Christ’s Holy Spirit is with us to support and sustain us in all we do in Jesus name.
So, what else do these two different healing stories tell us? That our Lord is compassionate and caring, and brings healing to all — men, women and children. Jesus responds to our needs, Jesus understands our needs, each in our own circumstances. Jesus gets it, he knows our situations. Our compassionate and caring Lord wants nothing more than to raise us, make us fully whole, we who are his brothers and sisters. Jesus came to minister, to serve–diakoneo. Christ’s healing touch can lift us, free us from the restrictions that prevent us from being as complete and well as we can be. Christ’s healing touch raises us, so we too can take our God given place, and our God given roles of service to bring about God’s kingdom. Like Jesus did.
It’s the touch of Jesus, the presence of Holy Spirit that fills us. It’s the grace of God our creator that completes us, and makes us whole. Amen
Rev. JoAnn Todd;
The Regional Ministry of Hope, February 4, 2018.
: Cynthia Briggs Kittredge Dean, President and Professor of New Testament 1 29-39 on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547 accessed Jan. 29.18
3:3, 5:41, 9:272:11, 3:3, 5:41, 9:27 . The other healings she notes are: Mark 2:9,