God uses human compassion for divine revelation.
Rembrandt. Christ Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law. circa 1650-1660
Although nameless to us, she will be forever remembered as the one who showed us how God can take the ordinary and make extraordinary…
all we have to do is reached out and take his hand.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday. And like millions of people around our country, my family and I will gather at a friend’s house to watch the game. I can’t think of a better way to spend my Sabbath then by eating great food, sharing warm hospitality, and resting on a couch with the top button of my jeans undone. Just as God intended.
Speaking of Sabbath, our reading from Mark is a continuation of the holy day where we last saw Jesus in a Capernaum synagogue blowing people’s minds away with his teaching and casting out of demons. There we learned that nothing in our life is more powerful than God’s mercy and grace that comes to us through Christ Jesus.
This week we could add upon that theme by stating no problem is “too big” or “too small” for God to handle. It might not seem like a big epiphany, but it does reveal something about God’s self in Christ. And it does cast a light on our place of importance in God’s kingdom.
Moving out of the public space of a synagogue we enter the private home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Her illness is not nearly as dramatic as a demon possessed man, but remember this is first Century Palestine. There is no Walgreen’s or a CVS nearby to get a dose of Theraflu.
He grabs the suffering woman by the hand and raises her up. Immediately she is healed. As Mark writes, “The fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
What did you notice about Jesus in these few short verses? What great epiphany did God revealed to us about God’s self?
The obvious might be how Jesus makes the most ordinary event, extraordinary. A simple fever, a simple touch, it might seem like a small act but it’s an enormous gesture. When we dig into the story, we see how God uses human compassion for divine revelation.
First, notice Jesus’ movement. In the NRSV it says, “As soon as they left the synagogue they entered the house of Simon and Andrew.” In the Greek, the adverb used is εὐθὺς, which is best translated as “Immediately.”
Immediately Jesus leaves. Immediately he enters the house. Immediately they ask for help. And immediately Jesus responds. He does not hesitate or chose to do something else. He immediately offers compassion without giving it a second thought.
Except for the few occasions when he is praying, or the one time he fell asleep on the boat in the middle of a storm, Jesus is constantly on the go. There is always a sense of urgency that follows him. From proclaiming the good news to casting out demons or curing the common cold, Jesus moves as God does: Immediately.
Next, Mark tells us about Jesus’ method. When he sees the ailing woman, Jesus immediately reaches out to touch her with his hand. This ordinary gesture of human kindness and compassion is a reflection of God’s intimate nature with us. Our God is not distant, or hidden away in some celestial realm. Our God becomes incarnate, and comes right up to us in human flesh.
With a single touch Jesus transforms our pain and sickness into health and wellbeing. With a single touch Jesus makes us whole and fully alive. With a single touch he saves us, restores us, and redeems us all back to God’s loving arms…even our mothers-in-laws!
Without uttering a single word, Jesus heals a sick woman. From there he reaches out his hand to the multitude that come for healing… just as he reaches out his hand to all of us in need today. Jesus loves as God loves: Intimately.
And then there’s Jesus’ ministry. Just after she is healed did you notice what Peter’s mother-in-law did? She gets up and begins to serve all the other people in the house. She doesn’t let another second of her life go to waste. Instead she immediately goes to work, praising God in the most basic way – showing hospitality to others.
No one tells her to do this. She initiates this action on her own. Instead of falling to her knees and worshiping Jesus like we might expect her to do...she shows her gratitude by doing what Jesus calls all of us to do: To serve one another.
God sent Jesus to serve us, and to do so with a purpose. And this woman gets it. Her eyes have been opened. This is her epiphany.
Instantly she begins to fill glasses with wine; puts out plates of cheese and bread on the table; sets out bowls of figs, olives and dates, humus and tabouli. What she does...might not sound like a big deal, but have you ever tried to make tabouli? It’s not easy.
The obvious lesson in this story might be that when God gives grace, it’s immediate. When God gives love, it is intimate. And by sending Christ to be with us, God initiates the first step in our healing and restoration.
But I believe there’s more to this simple story.
As I thought about Jesus holding the hand of this woman, and the transfer of power that healed her and caused her to react the way she did, it dawned on me… Christianity began not with the Apostles…but with this woman. And it was affirmed, not in the sacred space of a grand synagogue but rather in everyday life; in an ordinary house just like this one. She is the first Christian, just as the house is the original church.
This unnamed woman was the first to truly understand what Jesus’ radical new ministry was about. She is the first to recognize that serving others is the key to our call and pursuit of Christ.
We might be tempted to write off this act as nothing more than woman’s work, but that would be a mistake. Having seen the divine presence of God in Christ, this remarkable woman is awake, alive and renewed. And she moves with a great purpose and intention.
She transforms her kitchen into a new kind of worship space; making the table an altar where Christ would truly be present. In this new sanctuary people will gather to break bread. And a new kind of family will be born… Race, social class, gender roles and all our other demons are powerless to the incarnate power of Christ Jesus whose hands reach out to bless our meals, to bless our hearts, our homes, and all that is in the world.
Simon Peter and the other disciples won’t understand the power behind this event until after the Easter resurrection. Only then will it be made clear to them what Jesus meant when he said, “The Son of God came to serve and to give his life for all.”
Yet this wonderful woman saw it immediately. Through her, we receive this epiphany that nothing in life is too big or too small for God to handle. But if we don’t reach out and ask God for help, then the little stuff in our life will eventually become major headaches that cripple us and keep us from doing what we are called to do.
Although this first Christian is nameless to us, she will be forever remembered as the one who showed us how God can take the ordinary and make extraordinary…all we have to do is reached out and take his hand.