The Healing of Peter’s Mother in Law Homily for February 7.21  Based on Mark 1:29 – 39    

We’re still in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, and Mark is continuing with his introduction of Jesus to his readers, showing them who this Jesus of Nazareth truly is, helping them to understand and believe.  We continued reading today from where we left off last week.  Recall, Jesus was in the temple teaching, and the people are amazed at his teachings, his teaching is much fuller then how the scribes teach.  It’s like Jesus actually has the authority to teach them the scriptures and the Law, but the listeners 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 or unclean spirit.  And Jesus simply orders the spirit out of the man, and the man is healed.    There is an ironic twist here.  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, brothers Simon Peter and Andrew have invited them all back to their place for supper.  Once they’re home, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. And that means, of course, that Peter was married, and may well even have had children too.  And Andrew lives in the same home, so, a multi-generational household, which was pretty ordinary and common for the time.  If you’re like me, you tend not to think of the disciples as having ordinary lives, like you and I.  I kind of think of them as special, almost semi-divine kind of people.  I guess even the saints start out as ordinary folk, just answering Christ’s call, learning along the way, trying to do the right things—as they try to figure out how to live their lives faithfully.  Their journeys are recorded in the gospels too, the good things, and the slip-ups too!   So these disciples were just ordinary folk, like you and me, trying their faithful best to follow Jesus.  Simon, who Jesus names Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build the church, was just an ordinary married man, worried about his sick mother-in-law, and asks his new friend, Jesus the healer, if he can help her.

Fevers, until relatively recently, well, since the development of antibiotics, were very serious and often deadly.  Even though it is still the Sabbath day, night has yet to fall, Jesus goes right to her takes her by the hand and heals her.   To better understand the fullness of this story, there are a couple of words in the original Greek that lose something in the translation.  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.  So Peter’s mother-in-law must have been near death.  Certainly a miraculous healing, and clearly Mark wants his readers to understand that, and right on the heels of an exorcism at the Temple.  

It’s too bad we don’t know Peter’s mother- in-law’s name, but this too is classic for the time.  If a woman in the bible is named, it is significant, indicative of the importance of that particular woman to the story.  In this situation it’s Jesus’ healing that’s the focus of the story.  Yet, Mark represents her well.  According to one bible commentary, “In Mark’s gospel it is striking how often the women characters are presented in a far better light than the male disciples.  Here Peter’s mother-in-law does what every Christian is called to do, namely to serve others.”[2]

Right after she has been raised up by Christ.  Verse 31:  “the fever left her and she began to serve them.”  — from deathly ill to being well enough to serve Jesus and the other guests with a meal.  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….” (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, which is the very definition of Christian ministry.  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 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!   Everything we have comes from God, our very lives even!  

We serve our Lord 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 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. 

The news of morning’s exorcism and the afternoon’s healing got round town quickly, because after sun-down, after the Sabbath was officially over, the “whole city” Mark says came to Jesus for healing.  Just a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure, to make the point.  The whole city–Capernaum was but a village!  The people brought him everyone who was sick, or had demons, and Mark says he cured many of them.   Now here’s a point another commentator mentioned, that I had not considered before. Mark doesn’t say he cured them all, but many of them. Maybe some were not cured?  Was Jesus unable to get to all of them because there were so many ill people, or was he unable to cure some of them?  Mark’s language here is makes this inconclusive. [3]   None-the-less, many were healed.

The next morning before sun-up, Jesus leaves the house to find a quiet spot to pray.  I can just imagine that he must have been spiritually exhausted from all his efforts the day before.  He needs to pray, to rest in the love of God, to recharge his own spirit.  There is a learning in this for us as well.  If Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, can take a break from his work, to pray, to rest and recharge in his Father’s love, should we not take that opportunity too?  Praying is more than bringing a laundry list of requests for ourselves or others to God.   Praying is taking the time to rest in the love of the Lord, to be in the presence of God, feel the strength of the Holy Spirit recharging, healing, soothing our exhausted spirits, so we can continue our service to God.   Praying is listening to God’s voice, what God’s communicating to you.  I mean, if it’s good enough for Jesus….

Now, the disciples they don’t get it, and they don’t seem to be too pleased with Jesus’ disappearing act, they literally hunted him down and when they find him, in what comes across in a rather accusing tone say: “Everyone’s searching for you.”  Jesus doesn’t berate them, they just don’t understand yet.  Jesus tells them simply that it’s time to move on, to bring his ministry of teaching and healing to other people in other places.  And so Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John leave Capernaum, and accompany Jesus in his diakoneo, his ministry across the region of Galilee, learning from him, making mistakes, trying again, and growing in faith, as they follow Jesus.  Amen    

[1]Cynthia Briggs Kittredge Dean, President and Professor of New Testament  Seminary of the Southwest Austin, Texas.  Commentary on Mark 1. 29-39 on accessed Jan. 29.18  The other healings she notes are:  Mark 2:9,  3:3, 5:41, 9:272:11, 3:3, 5:41, 9:27

[2] The Oxford Bible Commentary.  John Barton and John Muddiman, editors. (Oxford University Press Inc: New York, NY. 2001)  890

[3] David Lose’s weekly blog:  In the Meantime…  from February 1,2021.  I subscribe to this blog.