MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Love, gratitude and service
Jesus began his ministry with a message. He was concerned about repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and announcing the coming of the reign of God. People were looking for the messiah in hopes that the powerful Romans would be run out of land they knew as home. As the messiah, Jesus had abilities to heal, to do the things that God could do as God’s own Son.
No sooner had Jesus begun to teach people in some synagogues at the start of his ministry, than he was taken to Simon and Andrew’s house, probably to rest as the Sabbath began at sundown. But, stepping inside the house he was told about Simon’s mother-in-law, who was sick in bed with a fever.
The understanding about fevers, impairments, and diseases of all different kinds was not what it is today. We understand illness to have to do with contagion, or vulnerabilities from genetic predispositions, exposure to pathogens, or terrible accidents. In Jesus’ day a skin disease, blindness, or even a fever was thought of as a judgment from God. If God were in charge of everything, then afflictions like these must be for a reason. It must be because of some sin committed, some indiscretion unacknowledged or even unknown, or some step out of the bounds of God’s covenant. Everything that happened must be connected with that.
Jesus stepped into that view of the world that called for sacrifice to make things right with God, and began pronouncing the forgiveness of sins, and speaking about the nearness of God’s reign where everyone would be welcome, and loved, and would feast at a great banquet table. It was a different understanding of the world.
In Mark’s gospel when Simon, who would later be given the name Peter, told Jesus about his mother-in-law, Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up, and her fever was gone. Only God or God’s messiah could do something like that. His actions were showing who he was, even though most of the people there didn’t know who he was. As soon as Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever was gone she began serving them.
I imagine that’s how it may be for many of us. When we discover the depth of God’s love, we want to show our gratitude by serving. The Greek word that’s used for her action is diakoneo, a variation of diakonia, the word that gets translated as deacon, one who serves. Love leads to gratitude, which leads to service.
Word must’ve spread fast. All that evening people were bringing others who were sick, in need of healing, to Simon’s home. They were discovering something about who Jesus was, even though they weren’t certain.
Jesus’ ability to heal people had some limitations, not in his ability to heal, but in terms of those who longed for healing needed to be within Jesus’ proximity. Jesus healed people generously, freely, giving them not just physical restoration, but a restored relationship with God.
Jesus went away to a private place to pray after all of this. When his disciples found him the next morning, he made it clear to them that he was to go to neighboring towns to proclaim the message there.
Jesus’ priority is reaching farther than the physical touch of his miraculous healing, to proclaiming the message of God’s reign, which is to restore the world. When we come to know God’s love, we are touched by God’s reign, lifted up from the fever pitch of all the chaos around us, to gratitude for what has been given to us. We are given the chance to serve.
Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.