“[Jesus] came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Mark 1:31
The healed woman was Peter’s mother-in-law. My initial reaction years ago to this passage was, “Sure, Jesus heals the woman so she can get up and wait on them and cook for them, and do all her domestic duties. Gradually, as I have studied the culture in which Jesus lived as well as this passage, I have come to a slightly different understanding of it. Even though I am not aiming to preach on this part of the passage for this week (and that can change depending on where the Spirit guides me), I would like to reflect on it here, maybe because I have been sick for about three weeks, first with a cold and now with pneumonia.
In Jesus’ day, having a fever was often seen as the presence of an evil spirit, and often, if left untreated, the fever would lead to death. The life expectancy for men and women in those days was very low, and for women to live into their forties meant they were considered elderly. We don’t know how old this woman was, but clearly she had a daughter old enough to be married, and most likely she was a grandmother. Peter has probably provided a home for her which might indicate that her husband is dead, and Peter has become the head of the household.
Women were expected to take care of the household duties, raise the children (and keep them quiet when the men were around!), and care for others. Their influence was powerful especially if they “had the ear” of their husband. This woman was probably loved and respected by Peter’s family, since, verse 30b says, “They told him about her at once.” The goal doesn’t seem to be “hurry up and heal her so she can wait on us” as much as “heal her because we don’t want her to die.” Jesus honors her by touching her: something that a Jewish rabbi would not have wanted to do in case he might catch it as well, but also because it made him unclean to have touched a sick person.
Now, if Jesus came to visit me, I would be honored, and if he would heal me of my nagging cough, my fatigue, my lack of energy, and the heaviness in my chest, I would be most grateful! I would at least make some tea for him and offer him something to eat with it. So, I think I understand that this woman was so grateful that she was able to resume her position in the household, that she got up and became busy with the meal preparations and caring for their guests. In the verse above, it ends with “she began to serve them.” Service is putting ourselves aside and caring for others, using the gifts we have been given. Maybe this woman was a great cook, baker, hostess – we don’t know.
Her healing was an indication that God cared even for women, not so Jesus and the disciples could get a meal, but so she could feel whole and restored. Isn’t that a goal for all of us? We all want to find wholeness and be restored to a right relationship with God and each other. Through Jesus, we have that restoration of our connection with God, and we have opportunities every day to restore and build healthy relationships with others. Sometimes the latter takes a lot of work, and sometimes those relationships are never truly restored. However, Jesus sets the example for us and calls us to bring renewal and wholeness through the way we live our faith and connect with others. It’s a challenge.
Our healing through our faith in Christ frees us to serve God in this world. It’s not about us; it’s about sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus with others. May it be our greatest desire and delight!