In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Most of us have dealt with a cold, or the flu, or another seasonal malady, even pneumonia —or at least we have taken care of someone with a serious case of one of these illnesses. One member has asked us to pray for a relative, a small child who is hospitalized with the flu and a 105-degree fever, and a number of people, especially young children, have died from the flu this season across the country. Knowing how serious a fever and the illness causing it can be, we understand the concern Simon Peter and his family have when Jesus comes into their house, and we read, “Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told Him about her” (Mk 1:30).
Who knows whether or not this fever would lead to death? Neither Simon nor his wife knew; no other family member, nor any other disciple, knew the answer to that. The afflicted woman may have felt like her earthly end was near, though she didn’t know. God knows. Notice that Jesus didn’t walk into the house and say, “Take Me to the woman lying ill with a fever.” Jesus knows; but, He lets them tell Him about her illness. He is God in human flesh, and here we can see both His humanity and divinity plainly. He comes to the woman’s bedside, and takes her hand. So human! And grasping her hand, He raises her up—an act more than human. In an act of mere human contact and compassion, she would still be weak, and He would be lifting, as it were, dead weight [she couldn’t raise herself]. His divine-human touch drove the illness, with its attendant fever, weakness, and possible death, from her, restoring health and strength to her at once, not gradually, and raising her at once. She is able at once to serve the Lord and the other guests.
Presumably she served the evening meal, perhaps helping her daughter. Believe it or not, some people are embarrassed about this, because it looks to them like Jesus is imposing on the poor woman, healing her for self-serving reasons, and having her resume a stereotypical “woman’s role” in the house. Horrors! On the contrary, this service was no imposition on her or insult to her; rather, as the eldest woman in the house, she regarded it as her rightful honor to see to the needs of guests in the home, to show herself to be a proper hostess. And consider this: How quickly did Simon’s mother-in-law rise and begin serving? Mark doesn’t say explicitly, though he clearly implies it, and Luke does say “immediately she rose and began to serve them” (Lk 4:39). “Immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words. Whom does Mark describe over and over as acting “immediately”? It’s Jesus, of course. So this woman, in rising and serving immediately, is faithfully following in the footsteps of her Lord and Savior, who after all first served her by healing her.
It’s easy to imagine that word had spread throughout Capernaum of the miraculous healing of the mother of Simon Peter’s wife, and of Jesus’ casting out of the demon in the synagog earlier in the day, which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel reading. So the sick and the demon-afflicted were brought to Him as the whole city congregated at the door. He healed the sick and expelled the demons. Given how prominent these miracles of healing and demon expulsion are in our text, we might be tempted to think that was Jesus’ whole purpose for being there. No doubt a lot of folks were there just to see the miracle worker, or be healed, but not to hear His teaching, His call to repentance, or His proclamation of the nearness of God’s kingdom. Jesus resists the temptation by going out by Himself in the wee hours of the morning to pray. As true God, Jesus cannot be tempted to sin. Yet He is also true man, and the temptation was real. When Jesus faced the direct temptations of the devil in the wilderness, He fought them off with the Word of God. When He goes out into the wilderness again, He goes in the power of the Holy Spirit to have holy conversation in prayer with His heavenly Father—the prayers He had learned, drawn from and shaped by Holy Scripture, the Word of God. The Son of God is also the Man of Faith, always desiring the will of His God and Father.
When Simon and his companions find Him, Jesus has been strengthened by the Father and the Holy Spirit to be about His purpose and His path again [not that He wanted to do otherwise]. By the way, St. Mark uses language that is quite forceful. At Jesus’ baptism, Mark says, “He saw the heavens being torn open” (Mk 1:10), and after His baptism “the Spirit immediately cast Him out into the wilderness” (v. 12). In the synagog at Capernaum, when the demon-possessed man spoke, Jesus literally says to the demon, “Be muzzled and come out of him” (v. 25). Now here, Simon and those with him “hunted down” Jesus, pursued Him. Those back in the city and the house want Jesus to come back; but, He knows His purpose. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” He came out of the house, out of the city—out of heaven, from His Father’s side, to preach and proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, the Glad Tidings, the Evangel, to evangelize.
Many times God’s people Israel grew weary and impatient, surrounded by enemies, waiting for the Lord’s promised coming and deliverance. In Psalm 44 they cried out, “Awake! Why are You sleeping, O Lord? Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us forever! For our soul is bowed down to the dust. Rise up; come to our help!” Through the Prophet Isaiah He reminded them that He is the Creator of the stars of heaven, and He numbered and named them all. He is “the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” He is mighty to save, and He is willing to save. Jesus is that very Lord and God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, both able and willing to save. To evangelize is to proclaim that very message, the Glad Tidings of your mighty King who comes to you, to save you, to deliver you from the hand of your enemies—the devil, the world, your sinful flesh, and death—and to restore you to Himself. Before Jesus did one miracle, before He called His first disciples, what does Mark tell us was Jesus’ first act of public ministry? “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14–15). One of our Synod’s gifted professors of blessed memory commented: “The preaching of the Gospel was [Jesus’] chief prophetic work, and His miracles served to confirm His doctrine. That the kingdom of God had come, showed itself also in this, that now the power of God, and the power to do miracles, was effective on earth. The great prophets of the Old Covenant performed miracles … But Jesus did miracles in overabundance … His very nature produced them.”
Many diseases, injuries, weaknesses, and other troubles can and still do afflict us in this earthly life: colds, the flu, pneumonia, broken bones, cancers of all sorts, arthritis, macular degeneration, heart disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, mental illness, to name just a scant few that afflict human bodies and minds. Jesus knows all of these. These are the effects, the symptoms, of the corruption of sin and death in the world. Some of them we suffer by our own actions; others befall us because we live in this fallen world. But Jesus has defeated these, along with sin and death, by His sacrifice, and His incorruption, and His resurrection. These things may and do afflict us in this life, but they cannot touch the child of God in Christ Jesus beyond this life. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4). Familiar words we hear on Good Friday; but, hear them now (in a more literal translation) from Isaiah 53, the Glad Tidings of His victory over sin, death, and every dread affliction by the Cross: “Surely our sicknesses He hath borne, And our pains—He hath carried them, And we—we have esteemed Him plagued, Smitten of God, and afflicted.” Our sicknesses and pains—every last drop of human woe and suffering—He bore in His body on the tree of the Cross, and by His wounds we are healed, made whole, guaranteed the complete healing of the Resurrection on the Last Day, by the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus doesn’t just proclaim the Gospel; He is the Gospel. And just as He touched Simon’s mother-in-law, taking her by the hand, giving her more than healing, giving her the Gospel, giving her Himself, giving her His divine life, so He continues to touch you, giving you the Gospel, giving you Himself and His own divine life, through the healing medicine of His holy Sacraments: the anointing and washing of water and the Word, His Holy Baptism; and His body and blood touching your lips and tongue, His Holy Supper. The early church called the Supper especially “the medicine of immortality,” and the Sacraments in general “the visible Word,” the visible Gospel. So be served by your God and Savior, receive His healing Word and His healing touch, that you may be strengthened to rise and serve your neighbors, in word and deed showing them the power of the Gospel, the power of Jesus who is the Gospel, the power of His sin- and death-conquering life, given for them.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.