“He came, and took her by the hand, and lifted her up,
and her fever left her and she began to serve them.”
It’s not hard, is it, to see why Peter’s mother-in-law is often held up as just another example of a woman being treated as a servant. “Poor thing! She’s just up from her sick-bed and here she is, slaving over a hot stove, and scurrying around trying to feed Jesus and all these hungry disciples of his!”
But I believe this miracle tells another story altogether. Normally, it would be the servant who would go to their master and attend to their needs. But Jesus turns ‘normal’ on its head. He goes to her. And we can picture the scene, as he bends down, and gently takes her hand, and lifts her up. Here is no domineering man, lording it over a poor woman, but a servant; the One who came, ‘not to be served but to serve’.
Still, like all the miracles of Jesus, this one is also astonishing. It can be quite hard to believe – until we remember that this is God at work. These are his miracles! These astonishing, one-off events in the life of Jesus are wondrous signs that tell the world, that tell us who he is; God himself, come to seek and heal and save us.
Mind you, the folk chasing around trying to find Jesus that morning probably weren’t too interested in who he was! They just wanted him to stay around and carry on healing more of their diseases, and who could blame them?
But Jesus is not staying around. “Let’s go on to the neighbouring towns, so I can proclaim the message there too, because that is what I came to do.”
What is this message then? What’s so urgent about it that Jesus can’t wait a while? And what could be more important than healing peoples’ illnesses?
While I was puzzling about this last week, I made an interesting discovery. I’ve been trying to learn New Testament Greek – and I came across a word that appears again and again in the New Testament – sozo. It means to heal.
But it has a deeper meaning than that. It also means to saveand tomake whole – completely whole.
And it struck me straight away – surely this means that Jesus came, not only to heal our diseases, but to heal us. To make us truly whole again, in the very depths of our being – to save us – forever, from all that threatens and destroys us.
If so, that means that all his healing miracles, all his acts of love, are the acts of the God who will not be without us; the Servant Lord who came all the way to us, to take upon himself all our diseases and afflictions and to bear all our suffering, and bear it all away on his cross.
That, I believe, is the message Jesus came to proclaim – as far and as wide, to as many folk as he possibly could. And that is the message that we too are to proclaim, in words and acts that tell of the Love which takes us by the hand, and lifts us up, healed and restored, into life serving God and one another.