Rev. Stephen Baldwin
OT: Isaiah 40.21-31
NT: Mark 1.29-39
Next week is the Super Bowl! And while everyone is talking about the superstar players who will show up in the highlight reels, games are often won and lost in small moments by lesser known players. A deflection here or a catch there…that builds momentum and turns the tide of the game.
Similarly, in reading today’s scripture we are tempted to focus on the superstar characters we know well–Jesus who heals the sick, Simon who will become Peter and lead the church after Jesus dies, the demons who recognize Jesus even when the people don’t. But to understand today’s story, you have to begin with a lesser known character who appears in today’s story but not a single other scripture, and it will lead you to the heart of the truth.
So let’s begin…with the mother-in-law. What’s her name? We don’t know. Whose mother-in-law is she? Simon’s. Who is Simon? Simon Peter. The man who would help lead the church once Jesus is gone.
Simon had a brother, Andrew, and they were fishermen. They began following Jesus at John the Baptist’s urging. Jesus said, “Follow me,” and they did. Since Simon Peter had a mother-in-law, it means he also had a wife and perhaps children. They too were invested in Jesus’ ministry, giving up their daily life with Simon Peter for the sake of the Good News.
As they traveled the countryside, Jesus developed a reputation for healing the sick. They moved from place to place, helping folks along the way. They were absolutely inundated with requests for assistance, so when they happen to be going by Simon Peter’s family home, they stop to take a break. After all, it is the Sabbath, and a rest would do them all good. When they go inside, though, they find more work to be done. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.
You might wonder, “Didn’t Jesus have better things to do than deal with a fever?” It would be a mistake to underestimate the seriousness of a fever. In that time, a fever could kill you. Simon Peter would have had reason to worry about his mother-in-law. So he doesn’t even have to ask Jesus to continue his healing ways, Jesus just does it.
Do you remember how Jesus heals her? A simple touch. He takes her by the hand, and her fever breaks. Mark tells story after story like this showing the power and authority of Jesus! He tells the disciples to follow, and they do. He tells the demon to leave, and it does. He has authority over heaven and earth. He takes a sick woman by the hand, and she is healed!
What happens next may seem like an afterthought or a throwaway line in the story, but tell me…do our mothers ever do something without a purpose? No, they’re always acting with purpose. What happens next, says verse 31, is the mother-in-law “began to serve them.”
Huh? She’s just been sick and in bed. What’s she doing? Why would they not tell her to take it easy for a little while? Surely they wouldn’t make her work on the Sabbath? The word translated as “served” means she served them as if waiting tables. She served them Sunday supper.
Why would Simon allow his sick mother-in-law to begin working immediately after beginning to feel better?
For this woman to feed Jesus would have honored him for his goodness to her, but it also would have restored her own honor and dignity in being freed from sickness and being able to return to showing love to her family and their guests. The miracle of Jesus’ healing isn’t just that he made people healthy; he restored them to their way of life. Simon’s mother-in-law was restored to doing what she loved.
Many of you know that we adopted a new puppy recently. His name is Rocket, and he lives up to that name. We took him to the vet this week to get his vaccinations, and they also showed up the x-rays they took when a farmer brought him in before he went to the shelter. The entire right side of his jaw is crushed. It was some sort of blunt force trauma, perhaps he was hit by a car, they said.
How can we help him heal?, we asked.
They did what they could surgically last month, but they said what would really heal him is letting him be a dog. Run, play, eat, grow, and live.
The miracle of Jesus’ healing isn’t just that he made people healthy; it’s that he restored their lives and let them get back to who they were.
While Simon Peter’s mother-in-law doesn’t appear again in Mark by name, the story does tell us that women who “served” him in Galilee stood at a distance and watched over his body after he died on the cross. I believe Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was there, still part of the ministry she joined so many months ago on a quiet Sabbath night in her living room.
If she is there on the hillside keeping watch over Jesus, then she’s more than a waitress. She’s also a follower. If she’s a follower who was dedicated to Jesus no matter what, then she’s also a disciple. And if she’s a disciple, then we all can be too.
Some people search their whole lives for the big job, the big moment, the big responsibility, the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, lightning-striking call from God, and they plan their whole lives around something that never happens. Mark 1 teaches us that as Jesus travels from place to place, his real ministry is what happens along the way with the people he meets.
In quiet, mundane moments and average, everyday relationships, God’s true Spirit shines through. Like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, may we ever be on watch, for the things we least expect may have the greatest effect. Amen.