Traditional Sermon Epiphany 5
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
Today’s gospel passage brings back some memories from an encounter I had many years ago with some friends at church. The discussion we had not only raised some humorous questions, but also a few laughs that centered around Simon’s mother-in-law. The humor surfaced by simply taking verses 30 and 31 from Mark’s first chapter literally. We neither looked at the situation from a historical/contemporary context, nor looked for any significance in the healing event. And now you will see why we thought this was funny. We have an ill woman lying on her sickbed at home. Then all of a sudden, we have barging into the house Jesus along with the two sets of fishermen-brothers who are now his disciples. One of the disciples is Simon, this ill woman’s son-in-law and who, along with his brother, another disciple Andrew, live at this house. What stood out as comical was that the scene as depicted in the passage could be viewed as the four disciples purposely wanting Jesus to come to the home to heal the ill woman so she then can just hop up from her sickbed and rush to the kitchen to prepare a meal and be a good hostess. Now, can you imagine Jesus really doing something like that? Taking advantage of his divine powers of healing to get a good meal out of this person to benefit him and his recently recruited disciples? I mean, really! And then there’s taking this woman’s feelings into account—we chuckled after imagining her grumbling after being healed once she realized that the goal was to get her out of bed and into the kitchen! Just imagine putting yourself in her position but into today’s context. Let’s say, that you are feeling very ill today with the cold or flu and you can’t get out of bed. You’re not only wheezing and coughing, but you also have a high fever and the chills. And today happens to be Super Bowl Sunday! An hour before game time, your significant other barges in with several friends to watch the game and they expect you to oblige them by being a gracious host or hostess to serve them at their every beck and call with food, beverages, snacks, etc. But to their dismay, they notice that you are seriously ill and cannot get out of bed. What do they do next? They immediately rush en masse and raid the medicine cabinet looking for all the over-the-counter cold and flu medicines. After they get you all pumped up with whatever medicines they could find, they expect you to just hop out of bed and get to work in the kitchen! Frankly, I think for most of us this would not go over too well! So, hopefully, you all can see why we had a few chuckles regarding the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, which also prompted a few mother-in-law jokes to add even more laughter.
Yes, my friends and I had a few good laughs at this woman’s expense, but there is much, much more to her healing. How unfortunate it was for my friends and I, through our own stupidity, to make folly out of this healing story. As you will see, the response of Simon’s mother-in-law, in particular, can apply to our lives today and we also see that when Jesus heals someone, it is not just the healing of the body, but more than that!
To put this in its historical context, the woman was ill with a fever but, for her time, a fever was an illness—a serious illness that could result in death. For us today, a fever is not considered an illness in itself, but a symptom of an illness or physical condition. We, today, also have the luxury of having over-the-counter remedies available to us plus good and possibly even immediate access to a physician—advantages that this woman did not have during her time. Luckily, her plight was brought to Jesus’ attention and he healed her with a simple touch of his hand and then raising her up. What is significant is the woman’s response because it gives us a rather interesting and unusual example of how to respond to the grace of God. Upon being healed, the woman gets up and goes to prepare a meal and act as a hostess to her guests. Her response is through serving. You would think that maybe she should instead take it easy and continue to rest. But no, she does not. She immediately goes to the kitchen to prepare a meal and take on the responsibilities of being a good hostess to her guests. In the biblical Greek source for Mark, the verb used is diakoneo—to serve, as seen at the end of verse 31: …and she began to serve them. We find the root of this verb in the words deacon and deaconess, the terms used in the Lutheran denomination for people called to serve in some capacity for the church, like St. Peter’s very own Sister Dottie. And this same verb is found in Mark 10:45 when Jesus describes his own ministry: For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Not only is Jesus proclaiming that he was sent to us to serve instead of being served, it is also what adequately describes his disciples. They also follow in Jesus’ ways by serving. In short, the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law can be viewed as stressing discipleship. This woman responds to God’s goodness and grace by serving—she embodies and foreshadows the ideal of discipleship as service to others. She is an example to us of true discipleship. Her service arises out of gratitude and generosity and thankfulness for what God has done. What a good example for us to follow!
And yet there is more than meets the eye regarding this woman’s healing. For this woman, or any person, during the time of Jesus, being ill bore a heavy burden, not only financially but also socially. An ill person would not be able to earn a living or contribute to the upkeep of a household as well as maintain the role they have in the community. Simon’s mother-in-law is a good example of this. For her time, it was her call and duty—her honor—to be a good hostess when guests come to the home and/or to help maintain the household. Due to her illness, she was unable to fulfill her role in society. Wthen Jesus healed this woman, not only was her physical health restored, but her social and emotional health as well. She was able to return to her old self not only within her own household, but also within the community. If one thinks about it, when Jesus heals, he is healing us to become whole again and not only to rid us of illnesses that affect us physically. That’s the Good News we get from this healing narrative! Jesus wants us to be restored whole. He also wants us, like Simon’s mother-in-law, to be good disciples who are willing to serve and help others.
So, as we can see, Jesus’ healing this woman as seen in verses 30 and 31, really isn’t a laughing matter. Yes, my friends and I had our chuckles and laughed way back when, but when we all realize how significant this particular healing really is, it makes us pause with awe and wonder, not only about what God’s healing powers can do for us, but also what a rich example Simon’s mother-in-law gives about discipleship.
So, let’s think and challenge ourselves during the week ahead, taking the healing narrative of Simon’s mother-in-law into consideration: What type of healing have you experienced where you felt the power of Christ made you whole again? How has this healing affected your faith and/or discipleship? As for discipleship, we may want to think about how we can be like Simon’s mother-in-law as well as Jesus, to be servants rather than being served.
Finally, all healing is through Christ! Let us also contemplate where and how Christ is now at work in healing us—to make us whole! Let us think about how, through the healing powers of Christ, he is changing us so that we can become the people God wants us to become. Amen.