It’s still early in Jesus’ ministry in the portion of scripture we heard today. He’s called Andrew, Simon, and Zebedee’s boys from their fishing boats to follow him, and they did. Now on the Sabbath, they’ve all attended the local synagogue for worship and reflection on scripture. It was there during the service that a man taken by an evil spirit came in and Jesus healed him, much to the amazement of the people gathered. Mark writes that immediately his fame began to spread. People started talking, and Jesus went viral, or as viral as you could go back in first century Palestine.
Our story this morning picks up just following that service. Jesus, James, and John go with Andrew and Peter to their home. When they arrive, it seems that Peter’s mother-in-law—the matriarch in that household—is down with a fever. Recognizing she would have been tremendously honored to have this new rabbi come to her home, this had to be quite some fever to take her away from her domain in the kitchen and dining area. As it’s the Sabbath, the meal would have been largely prepared the day before, the loaves of challah bread baked, and the fish and fresh vegetables prepared. She would have wanted to make her guest feel welcome, and then enjoy sitting at the table with him and the others as they shared a meal to end the Sabbath.
But she’s sick in bed. A fever has spiked, and she’s down for the count. And, I suspect, horrified by all this. In our day, if they one preparing a meal becomes ill, we send texts calling the whole thing off. We feel badly, of course, but we expect others would understand. Since iPhones weren’t around back then, there was no way for her to let them know that she didn’t feel up to it. So as soon as they all arrive there after the service, someone tells Jesus about her. At once he goes in to her, holds her hand and gently lifts her up. The fever leaves her immediately, and she’s once more herself, and she goes on to serve them.
Now before we start reading back into this narrative from our vantage point and getting ticked that Jesus heals her so that she can serve him a meal, let me gently remind you that for her there could be no greater honor. While we have certainly moved on from the idea that only women can cook at home—and I for one am glad that I can pursue my own love of cooking in the rectory kitchen—in that day it was the norm. I get the sense that Peter’s mother-in-law loved showing her culinary skills, and providing a welcoming table to guests, a projection I know, but still one that feels real to me. Additionally, also notice that the word “serve” used here is the same one used later on for the ministry of deacons. Diakonos in the Greek simply means one who serves or ministers, and she is embodying the call to discipleship that even the men around the table are called to as well. Jesus will expressly say this himself at the Last Supper when he washes their feet, but she is already living as his disciple as one who serves others.
That fame that Mark mentioned earlier is what brings the multitude to the door of Peter and Andrew’s home once the Sabbath ends at sundown. They carried beds with the sick, and brought others possessed by demons. We’re told that the whole city was gathered around the door. And Jesus healed many of them who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, going late into the evening before calling it a night and heading to bed.
Early the next day, before dawn, Jesus sneaks out to a deserted place in order to pray and reconnect with God. He’s there for some time, when finally his disciples find him. Mark tells us they’ve been hunting for him, trying to scare him up. When they get there, they tell him, “Everyone’s looking for you,” implying of course that the town has turned up once more at the door, bringing more of their sick to be healed by him. “Let’s go to the neighboring towns,” he says, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And so they do just that. “He went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Truth be told, I appreciate Mark’s honesty in this passage, but I also feel horrifically bad for some of the people gathered outside that home. Our gospeler tells us that “many” were healed that night; what he doesn’t say is “all.” There had to have been some who arrived at Simon Peter’s house just as the crowd was breaking up, and they saw the door get closed and the porch light turned off. They likely were one of the ones who got up early the next morning and headed over to the house only to find Peter, Andrew, James, and John all huddled together in the front lawn whispering with nervous glances, and then beginning to look all over. Someone nearby whispers, “Jesus isn’t here. He’s left.” And I think about how those sick ones feel who had hoped to be healed by Jesus, to be made whole, only to discover that their chance was gone.
Frankly, it always stings. And then I being to wonder about the ones in our own day who might feel that they just missed out when it comes to experiencing wholeness in their lives. That they made it just moments too late and didn’t hit the cosmic lottery, as it were. I want Mark to have one of the disciples ask Jesus, “But what about the ones back in Capernaum? Don’t they need you too?” so he can answer for himself why he doesn’t turn back.
This week as I began thinking about Peter’s mother-in-law and her being healed to serve, and then all the many that were healed, and the call of discipleship, it began to dawn on me. Jesus doesn’t need to go back to Capernaum because he’s brought the wholeness of his kingdom to so many there already. They in turn are called to serve, to minister, to bring wholeness to others too. You see, Jesus doesn’t bring us wholeness in our lives just so we can hoard all that goodness for ourselves. He brings us healing and peace and joy, and we cannot help but share that with others. We cannot help but spread his healing love.
I always find it curious that in Mark’s gospel Jesus tells both the evil spirits and also others that he heals not to say anything about it. He doesn’t want who he is to get out. But then we keep hearing how the word about him spreads. That the one thing he asks for, this little bit of secrecy, it doesn’t happen. People keep telling their stories, they tell how their lives were changed, how they experienced healing and found wholeness. Because that love of his is generative. It can’t be contained. That’s the work of the kingdom, of course, and he’ll tell his disciples later that the kingdom is like yeast and a tiny seed that begins small but grows and grows and grows. And if the kingdom is like that, it means that it has to be about more than just fame for Jesus himself. It means that his work continues with us.
Back there in Capernaum where everyone is searching for him—where everyone is waiting for him—are those who’ve been touched by him already. The many he healed, they are now the ones called to serve like him, to heal like him, to bring wholeness in his name. That’s why Jesus needed to keep moving on to the surrounding towns, because there were people there too who needed to hear his message for the first time. He need to plant that seed there, he needed to work that leaven into the dough in those places, to get the work of the kingdom started.
To put it another way, friends, you’ve been blessed by Jesus’ healing touch, and now you are tasked with sharing that message with the world. This life of yours is a gift; what’s holding you back from proclaiming the good news? What do you need to tell your story and share God’s love?
Often we think we aren’t knowledgeable enough, or that we don’t have enough, or that what we offer will be rejected. My experience has been that rarely is that the case. We are called to embody love. Do not hold back. Love freely. Give generously. Share joyously. People are hurting. They want a healing touch, and you have been entrusted with the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, a kingdom of hope, redemption, grace, and wholeness. Let us bring his kingdom to others. Let us bring love to our world.