The lectionary reading for this past Sunday is one of the more familiar healings by Jesus. I have preached on the text many times. Yet, this past week in my time of study, I had an AHA moment through which I was reminded of the incredible power of God's redemption and grace.
The story begins simply. "As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once (Mark 1: 29-30)."
At first reading, this doesn't sound very dramatic and quite honestly not very interesting. Jesus and the disciples had been in the synagogue, and while Jesus was teaching and preaching, the man with the unclean spirit interrupted him. The result of this scene of chaos and commotion was the first healing of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
Yet, now they have headed to the house of Simon and Andrew for food and a night's rest. Simon calls Jesus' attention to his mother-in-law's condition. The text says she had a fever. In the ancient world, a fever could mean a number of things. It could mean the body was fighting a serious infection and the family could only hope the infection would not win. Fevers were also dangerous because if the body temperature became too high for too long of a period, it could damage the eyes, stomach, heart, or the brain. A fever could be deadly.
An unexpected illness, such as a fever, also caused alarm because people did not know the cause and did not know if the person was contagious. Immediately, someone suffering with a fever would be isolated. Illness in the ancient world was not as much about biomedical matter, but rather a social one.
Incapacitated by the fever was a condition that I imagine was isolating for her. She would have been unable to socialize, unable to participate in worship, unable to participate in the public aspects of life.
Yet, Jesus was willing to enter into her physical space, to be present with her. His willingness to be present with her in the midst of her isolation and suffering was the beginning of the healing.
But here is where the AHA moment came for me, considering the most accurate translation from the original Greek for verse 31 of Mark 1. "He came and took her by the hand and raised her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them."
The word to be raised up or lifted up is the same word that is later used in Mark 16: 6 to talk about the resurrection. The word used in both places is egeiro.
Jesus lifts her up. Jesus raised her. Jesus resurrected her. By Jesus' touch, she is restored, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Her immediate response to this healing is to be of service.
For years, I have missed this aspect because I referred to translations that said something like, "The fever left her, and she began to wait on them." To me, it sounded like Jesus healed her so she could get up and make sandwiches for the men.
However, the word that is often translated, as "wait" is better translated as "serve." The Greek word in Mark 1:30 is diakonia, the word we use in the Christian tradition to mean one who is in service to the Lord, such as a deacon. Imagine, she is not healed so that she can be restored as the disciples' personal wait staff. She is healed to be a disciple, a deacon (deaconess) to be in service to the Lord.
Hers is a deeply spiritual response. Her response as she gets up and shows hospitality to her guests is not about gender roles. Rather, her response is the power of Christ that restored her and made her whole. It is a powerful story of the redemptive power of God.
I believe that there is no greater response to the transforming, redemptive power of Christ in our lives than to be in service to others. May we remember the call of Christ is to follow the example of his life and ministry. To be those who do not wish to be served, but those who are led to serve. In our service, may our lives not only reflect Christ, but also enable other to experience the power of Christ's love, grace, healing, and joy.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister