29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
In last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had just entered the town of Capernaum after calling the fishermen Simon and Andrew and James and John as his disciples. It was the Sabbath day and Jesus went into the synagogue to teach, when there was a man possessed with an unclean evil spirit. And the evil spirit knew who Jesus really was – the Holy One. Jesus then destroys the evil spirit by casting him out of the man. And everyone was amazed.
Our gospel reading for today picks up right where we left off. That same day, after they left the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples go to Simon Peter’s house, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. While that might not sound like a big deal to us, back when there were no antibiotics, but just a cool rag on the forehead – it was a pretty serious thing to have a fever.
So, they tell Jesus what’s going on and he immediately goes to her. Now, there are far too many women in the Bible who are nameless and unknown and Peter’s mother-in-law is one of them. So, let’s do her the honor of giving her a name. Someone give her a name…
We’ll call her Betty.
So, Jesus goes to Betty’s side and he takes her by the hand and lifts her up. And immediately, the fever leaves her. He simply takes her by the hand and lifts her up and the fever is gone.
And so, we are reminded of the healing power of touch. Of simply taking someone by the hand.
A dear friend of mine has been sick for the past couple of months and needed surgery. She said, “Being sick is so isolating. You aren’t touched very much. No one touches you. No one comes near you. It’s awful.” Maybe that’s how it was for Betty. Maybe she was sick and no one had laid a hand on her in so long. And then along comes Jesus, who takes her by the hand and lifts her up. And the fever is gone.
So all of this just got me thinking about the power of touch, of simply holding someone’s hand and how healing it can be. When was the last time you held someone’s hand? There is something sacred about holding someone’s hand. I think we know this. This might be too much information, but I can’t remember the handful of first kisses I’ve had in my life, but I can remember almost all of the times I held a girl’s hand for the first time.
You know, I hold Elliot’s hand all the time. At home when we are playing or going to sleep. When we are walking down the street. And sometimes for no reason at all. And then it dawned on me – when did my dad and I stop holding each other’s hands? I can’t remember, but it was a long time ago.
When Lauren and I were in marriage counseling, a counselor once said that the next time we got into an argument, to try sitting on the couch holding hands while we argued. There something about holding each other’s hands that forces you to be kinder to each other.
We don’t really live in a culture where it is socially acceptable to hold hands with your friends. Which is a shame I think. The cultures in the world where it is acceptable are much older than American culture. So maybe it is a wisdom that will come with maturity and with time.
There is something sacred about holding someone’s hand. There is something that is healing about it. And I think we know this.
So that is what Jesus does. He takes Betty by the hand and lifts her up and her fever leaves. And right after that, the text says, she began to serve them.
Just what Betty needs, right? She’s just been lying in bed for days with a fever, and now that it’s gone she’s supposed to just get back to work and make everyone a snack? At first glance, it’s not the Bible’s finest moment when it comes to women’s rights and equality. But we will come back to that.
So, evening arrives, and the disciples are bringing all these people to Jesus who are sick or possessed with demons. And eventually, it says, the whole city was outside the door. Everyone. And so we are reminded that there is not one person who is not in need of some form of healing in their life. The whole city was outside the door.
This made me think of something that Elliot said this past week. Elliot loves pens and flashlights and he loves to take them apart and put them back together. One morning this past week, he woke up and while we snuggled in bed, he said, “Daddy, screw me back together because I’m broken.”
I couldn’t help but think about how true that statement is for all of us. I mean, in some way, we all need to be screwed back together don’t we? Because we all are broken in some way. For some of us our brokenness is just more visible or public than others.
So if we are honest, Elliot and I, and all of us, would be gathered at that door, with the whole city, waiting to see how Jesus would heal us too.
Jesus goes on to heal many of them and casts out many of the demons. Notice it doesn’t say that he cured everyone or cast out all the demons. Just many of them, and then after that he sneaks away for a break. A chance to breathe, to pray, and regain his strength.
But it didn’t last long. Soon enough, Simon Peter and the other’s were out hunting for him. That’s what the text says – hunting for him. Which is pretty strong language if you ask me. That crowd of people must have been pretty desperate for more of what Jesus had to offer. They are literally hunting him down.
“Everyone is searching for you,” they say. Which makes sense. All that healing and demon casting is good stuff. Who wouldn’t want more of it? Plus, from the sounds of it, Jesus didn’t get to everyone yet.
But Jesus has a different plan. He says, “Okay, then it’s time. Let’s get out of here and move on to the next town.” And they’re gone. Off to another town, preaching the good news and casting out demons. Jesus’ goal wasn’t to heal and save just Capernaum. He’s got his eyes on the whole world. Which meant he couldn’t stay there. But he had to move on.
Which doesn’t seem entirely fair to all of the people left behind in Capernaum. Those who weren’t healed or who didn’t have their demons cast out. It doesn’t seem like Jesus to just leave them be. Unless he had a plan in place for that too.
Which brings me back to Betty.
Remember how after being healed, she immediately got up to serve everyone? Well, it has to do with more than just making them sandwiches. The Greek word there meaning to serve is diakoneo. So Betty’s fever left and immediately she got up to diakoneo. Well, In about 10 chapters, Jesus is going to tell his disciples that he has come not to be served, but to serve – diakoneo. (Mark 10:45). He has come to do what Betty does – to diakoneo – to serve. Maybe our bracelets should say WWBD – What would Betty do?
And a couple chapters later, when Jesus is hanging on a cross, and when all of the other disciples have abandoned him, we learn that there was a group of women who watched from a distance. A group of mostly unnamed women who, as the text says, “provided for him for him in Galilee.” And the word there for “provided for”? Diakoneo. It was a group of women who had diakoneoed , served, with Jesus. Which means maybe one of those women was Betty. One of those faithful disciples.
Her fever left her and immediately, she diakoneoed. She served. Whatever Betty did after she was healed from her fever – well, it wasn’t what we might think as forgettable or menial work. It was Jesus work. Her serving was discipleship work. When I visit with people who have been struck with a debilitating illness, many will say that the worst part is the loss of independence and the loss of having purpose. They feel like a drain on people’s lives and like they have nothing they can contribute to the world. And sometimes, more than healing, all they want is a purpose in this world to live for. When Betty was freed from her fever and illness, she was restored back to feeling like she had a valuable role and purpose within the community. She wasn’t simply freed from something; she was freed for something. For a life to go and serve others, taking them by the hand and lifting them up as had been done for her.
Why would Jesus go on to the next town and leave the rest of the people in Capernaum? Because he knew they were in good hands. Healing hands. Betty’s hands.
I mean that is what Jesus has come to do, right? Not to do it all himself but to teach and to train disciples and followers to preach and heal and to offer grace and forgiveness, to restore people to community, and speak truth to power. To make the gospel free of charge, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians. Or in other words, to bring near the kingdom of God. Which was Jesus’ first sermon – the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus has come to invite others to be bearers of the gospel to the world, even after he’s gone. Jesus needs partners in this divine work – otherwise, why would he call any disciples, when he could just do it all himself?
So where has someone lifted you up by the hand? Where has someone entered into your suffering so as to help you through it? And now, how might you go and serve as a disciple, lifting others up who are in need?
Please hear me. You don’t need to quit your job or go and commit every Saturday to something spectacular. But maybe it is seeing with new eyes that wherever you are is an opportunity to bring about the kingdom of God. I just spoke with a friend this week, a life-long Christian, who never thought of his regular day job, his everyday stuff, as an opportunity to do ministry with people. He just thought it was to pay the bills and any ministry acts are on the side. Little did he know that the way he treats his co-workers and customers can be an act of faith. Or the focus that he gives to doing his job well so that no one gets sick is act of faith. He never knew. Do you know? That your day-to-day stuff is always an opportunity to love as you have been loved, to forgive as you have been forgiven, to serve as you have been served? Or in other words, to bring near the kingdom of God.
One last thing. You know when Elliot had a fever, we didn’t wait around for Jesus to heal it. We went to the doctor and got medicine. So I don’t know what to say about healing stories and how they work. But what I do know is that God is present when my wife puts a cool rag on his forehead and rocks him to sleep. I know that God is present when you sit and hold the hand of a loved one who is hurting.
I know Jesus’ won’t leave this world unattended and uncared for. That’s why he sent you. You have healing hands too. Thanks be to God.