The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (2/8/2015)

Lessons:Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147:1-11, 20c 1st Corinthians 9:16-23 St. Mark 1:29-39

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

St. Mark 1:29-39 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Raised up to Serve

Isn’t it odd that we know next to nothing about the families of those who became followers of Jesus? (Except, of course, for the fact that James and John had a father named Zebedee who was a fisherman, and an unnamed mother who petitioned Jesus to give them places of honor in his kingdom.) We don’t know if Bartholomew had a brother, if Matthew’s mother was still around, if James (the son of Alphaeus) was a Jr. or if Simon (the Cananaean) had a son.

We do know, however, that Peter has a mother-in-law and, presumably, a wife. Peter’s mother-in-law stands at the heart of this week’s text. Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, and has healed many who are there. After a time, they leave the synagogue and make their way to Peter’s home. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a very high fever (as if, the Greek word suggests, she is on fire). Jesus takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. As far as her family and friends can tell, she is completely healed. She immediately makes her way into the kitchen, and begins to serve all those who had gathered there with Jesus.

There are some who have expressed concern about her response. Why is it that the first thing she does when Jesus heals her is to fire up the oven and get to work? Is that where women are supposed to be and to stay? In the kitchen, preparing food for guests?

In a word: no. Since there are no other examples in the New Testament where Jesus indicates that there is a different set of rules for men and women, this isn’t likely to be the one case where he does. Besides, he’ll make that clear enough when he commends Mary for sitting at his feet, and rebukes Martha for being distracted by the many tasks that had to be done in the kitchen.

Why does Peter’s mother-in-law immediately begin to serve tables? Or better yet, what might we (men and women) learn from this story? In a chapter where Jesus liberates many people from what binds them, and frees them up to be what God intends them to be, this looks quite a bit like a concrete example of how that plays out in a believer’s life. Peter’s mother-in-law clearly is one whose calling in life is to offer generous hospitality to those who are in her home. Her illness has prevented her from doing so for some time, but when Jesus heals her, she immediately goes back to what she does best. In doing so, we observe that she is whole again.

Likewise, Jesus frees us from what binds us, and sets us right again, so that we can offer our lives in service to others. The story of Peter’s mother-in-law is our story. When we experience healing from God’s hand, we may not all rush into the kitchen and start working on a casserole (although some of us might!). Be we do find ourselves drawn back to what God asks of us; only now we go about it with a much deeper sense of purpose. Our service becomes a response to God’s grace — our sacred opportunity to give thanks to the one who has blessed us in so many ways.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What prevents Peter’s mother-in-law from serving others?
  2. Why does Jesus heal her?
  3. How is she connected with the stories of healing that come before and after hers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What binds me, and prevents me from being what God calls me to be?
  2. How does my faith free me from that bondage?
  3. Freed and renewed, what does a life of service look like for me?