Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-11; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39
The Israelites know who God is, they know what God has done. But sometimes we forget the things we know. This is the story of God and humanity. We get distracted, we lose hope, we forget. And God says again and again, have you not known? Have you not heard? I love you. This time we hear it through the prophet Isaiah, wrapped up in beautiful poetry and powerful imagery.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
God is so magnificent, that even our best selves are just little grasshoppers in comparison. No one and nothing is stronger or mightier than the one who can blow over Earth’s strongest rulers with a sigh, a breath. God has no equal, God has made everything, all power comes from God. Have you grown tired, faint, and weary? God gives you strength when you feel you are at the end. God is bigger, stronger, more impossible to comprehend than you can possibly imagine. And yet this picture of a big, ultimately powerful God is only part of the picture.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
About Jesus’ first miracles - what he did for the man in the synagogue and Simon’s mother in law? Do you know what this means? We may be grasshoppers in comparison, but we are loved and cared for. God is huge, but God’s love specific, and each and every one of us matters.
The gospel readings from last Sunday and today are important to look at together. They are two healing stories that happen on the very same Sabbath day. Jesus heals a man, than a woman. He heals in the synagogue and then in a home. He exorcises a demon and then cures a fever. From public to private, from supernatural to medical - Jesus has great power. And who Jesus heals is telling as well. He spends his whole ministry breaking boundaries, and does so right from the beginning. It says something that the first person he heals was unclean and the second was a woman - he wasn’t supposed to be touching either of these people. But Jesus didn’t come to do what the world expected.
And this makes what the church and the world has done with this story of Simon’s mother in law even more frustrating. This first thing she does after being healed is get up and serve. This piece of the story has been misinterpreted and used for centuries to keep women down - out of pulpits and leadership positions. This story, misinterpreted, has been used by the powerful as a tool to keep others out of power. And while I may want to rescue her, it turns out Jesus already has. When we look closer we can see that what he did for her actually to returned her to honor, status, and power.
The greek word used here for ‘serve’ here is diakonia. Yes, the definition includes table service, but it also includes ministry. This is the same word that describes the work of the angels who come to Jesus and serve him when he is in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. This is the same word Jesus uses to describe his own work and purpose. When the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest (and missing the point, as they often do in Mark), Jesus reminds them that “The son of man came not to be served but to serve.” The author of Mark is showing us that what Simon’s mother in law is doing is the same as the angels, as Jesus himself.
Simon’s mother in law does not serve because she has to, because she is compelled to, because someone asks her to, because that’s her supposed place. In ancient middle eastern culture, hospitality was (and still is) of utmost importance, and being the one to serve guests was considered a place of honor. In her healing, she is restored to that place of honor, restored to her vocation. She serves because it is what discipleship looks like - she shows us what following Jesus really means.
She is only the second healing story in Mark, and she is the very first resurrection story. When Jesus lifts her up, he raises her to new life. That word, lifts up/raises, is used in six healing stories in Mark. And in each case, while an individual may be healed, it is never just about them, because they are also restored to relationship - able to rejoin family and society.
Healing stories can be difficult, because we still experience so much hurt, disease, and brokenness in the world. It makes sense that we would ask the question, why not me or my loved one? Where is the healing? I don’t have an easy answer for that, but I do know that alongside the hurt, disease, and brokenness, we do experience new life. We have been lifted up and raised again and again. Restored relationships, physical healing, repaired community are also a very real part of our world.
In the ancient world, physical healing was still quite mysterious, so experiences of cured illness were often recognized as miracles. Jesus was far from the only one who was considered a healer. And even the people Jesus physically healed eventually died, probably even got sick again. The curing of disease is a small part of the story of how Jesus shares the good news and proclaims the gospel.
Jesus’ healing actions point to something much bigger than himself. His healing leads to restoration of community, relationship, and vocation. And those are the things of the kingdom which Jesus came to usher in, to declare begun. People who live out vocation, who enter into community together, who build strong relationships, they are workers in this kingdom.
We have been raised to new life in our baptism and we are lifted up every time we come to the table. And not just in those specific holy moments, but in so many throughout our days and our lifetime, we see resurrection. We see that the kingdom is here among us, and like Simon’s mother-in-law we have had an experience with the living God which propels us forward to serve. Like her, like the angels, like Jesus himself.
This woman doesn’t even get a name of her own, but she is a picture of resurrection and an example of Christian ministry. How will we respond to the many ways in which Jesus brings us back to life?