February 8, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Whom does Jesus heal?
And what happens after Jesus heals them?
Last week we read about Jesus healing a man of an unclean spirit in the midst of Sabbath worship. From there, in this morning’s reading, they leave and come to Simon and Andrew’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever.
If we had a fever, we might take some Tylenol and go back to bed, drink plenty of fluids, or go see the doctor and maybe get an antibiotic. In those days, bed rest fluids were the only of these options available. And a fever can be fatal. When they tell Jesus about the woman, it says:
He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
So between last week’s and this week’s stories we see that Jesus heals:
- Men and women.
- In the place of worship and at home, in public areas and private homes, in sacred spaces and secular spaces.
- Afflictions both supernatural (unclean spirits) and natural (a fever), spiritual and physical, social and medical.
This is good news! Whether we are visibly afflicted, or suffering in private; whether we are particularly religious or not; whether our affliction need to be rebuked and cast out or we need a hand to help lift us up: the Gospel says that the power of God that we find in Jesus is enough.
I do not say this to disparage modern medicine or to start a religion versus science fight. I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for modern medicine. It has given me my family.
But in the midst of our afflictions, whatever they may be, the answer remains the same: Jesus is enough.
He took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.
We have a very different understanding of touch today than they did in first century Israel. A man would not touch a woman to whom he was not related. A person would not touch someone with a fever, for fear of becoming sick, for fear of becoming unclean.
Jesus does not care. Or rather, he cares more about the person than society’s assumptions.
How often is mental illness or a congenital defect looked upon by society as if it were contagious? How many people with problems like fibromyalgia, or depression, or grief, which may have no outward symptoms, are treated as if they are a moral failure for not “getting over it?” Society’s definitions and assumptions about illness are often an added layer of difficulty on top of the problem itself.
Jesus does not care about society’s assumptions. Jesus loves the person, just as we are. Jesus touched the woman, defying social conventions and healing her.
He lifted her up.
- When Jesus heals a paralyzed man, he says, “Arise, [literally “Be lifted up”] take up your mat and walk.” When he raises Jairus’s daughter, whom everyone thought was dead, he takes he by the hand and says, “Little girl, be lifted up.”
- When Herod hears about Jesus and the power fo God at work in him, the gossip around the court is that “John the baptizer has been raised [lifted up] from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”
- When the disciples go to see Jesus’ dead body after the crucifixion: As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised [lifted up]; he is not here.
Healing, resurrection, the power of God is at work in Jesus and that is what lifts us up. And it is enough.
For women, this passage can be bittersweet. We are not that far from the generation when a “good, Christian woman” was told she could be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher, but preferably a housewife. If we cringe at the notion that the best that healing can mean for Simon’s mother-in-law is heading to the kitchen and serving food, here are a few ideas about that:
- If the Gospel wanted to reinforce patriarchy and gender roles, Jesus would never have gone near her, touched her, or lifted her up in the first place.
- In a culture of hospitality, the senior woman of the household is in charge of feeding important guests. Just try and get grandma out of her kitchen on thanksgiving! Simon’s mother-in-law is restored to her seniority.
- She is fully healed, and able to function well enough to serve.
- What do followers of Jesus do when they find people hungry? They feed them.
Even though on first blush it looks as though she returns to no more than what society expects of her, there is more going on here. As we did with the words “lifted up,” let us look at how the word meaning “serving” or “waiting on them” is used in the Gospel of Mark.
- When Jesus is in the wilderness and he has been tempted by Satan and had prevailed, he is among the wild beasts, and the angels “minister” to him. To minister is to serve, to serve is to minister.
- The second time is our story this morning.
- The third is when Jesus says that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. The work of Jesus is ministering to and serving others.
- The final time is at the cross:
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for [same word as “served” or “waited on”] him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. [Mark 15:40-41]
(This is after “All of them (the male disciples) deserted him and fled.” at his arrest. [Mark 14:50])
We could well imagine Simon’s mother-in-law among them.
So, there is yet good news here. This is why Jesus did not just stay and hang out in Capernaum, but went out to preach and heal and lift up throughout Galilee.
Once we are lifted up, we are called to serve others, to lift those around us. Jesus is creating a new way of living. He is lifting people, restoring them to health and to community, but not just to be what they were. Now they lift others. Now they love one another as he has loved them. Now they are able to do what Jesus has done, because he has lifted them, and because God is enough.
What do we do when we have known healing, welcome, homecoming, in the power of the Holy Spirit? We serve. We help lift others.
How has God lifted you up?
How will you help to lift others?
Thanks be to God. Amen.