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Isaiah 40:21–31 | 1 Corinthians 9:16–23 | Mark 1:29–39
Maybe this sounds familiar as of late: An elder member of the family getting gravely ill. It concerns one of the fishermen just called by Jesus. They had been in Capernaum earlier that day where Jesus taught in the synagogue and cast out the unclean spirit. It’s now later in the day and we wonder what Jesus and the other three will be about now: Dinner and some rest? But there’s this By The Way moment: The five of them go to Simon’s house and now they decide it’s a good time to let Jesus know there’s a problem- presumably one that might also affect the evening’s plans. Simon’s mother-in-law is very ill—in bed with a fever. Perhaps this affected the functioning of the household as she was not able to contribute; and it took extra hands to attend to her. Whatever practical affects, when someone is very ill, there’s that sense of wondering and waiting and consulting and work to attend to her.
In the next two sentences, we hear that Jesus heads right on into the room where she lays… and does what, exactly? (To sharpen your listening skills…) He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t “slay her in the spirit” by knocking on her head. He doesn’t give her medication or offer any medical advice or procedures.
He does something that is profoundly human and simple: He reaches out and takes hold of her hand. hands are wonderful things… with all their dexterity and opposable thumbs, they are one of our greatest human advantages in the tasks that we can accomplish. With their nerves and sensitivity, they send so many important sensory messages to our brains for survival and creativity, but also about relationship as well. Whether it is shaking hands, holding hands, lending a helping-hand, we communicate love and trust and compassion with our hands. They bridge the space between us (more so in non-COVID times).
And so Jesus offers his hand. And with his hand, he “raises her up.” With all the many words we can use to translate the Bible into English—a language with many words for many things—we lose sight of what the original hearers would have immediately seen. Jesus, who will be “raised up” (egiro) “raises up” this woman, lickety split. Apparently, the whole story isn’t just about the end. It’s about the now. New life happens in real time, while we’re still living it, when hope seems gone. Now this doesn’t mean that people won’t die anymore as we know it right now: It’s that—while we live—we needn’t be overcome by death. Which looks a lot like living in fear.
“Haven’t you been listening? Or paying attention? You’ve heard these stories your whole life!” says Isaiah 40 in a different translation. God reaching out with a hand that matters in real time- sparking with potential; with love and compassion to take hands that are steeped in fever. Our only response being one of letting the hand be taken- trust in the hand. How many times have we been carried through? Can we also trust these- our beloved- into the hands of God? No matter what?
The third and final sentence of the story shows us that she has been healed through two parts: The fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. That is, this raising up has brought her back to being able to carry on her vocation! While we may wonder at this rather abrupt change from illness, to potential drudgery, the word used here is the same that was just used a few verses ago about what the angels do for Jesus in the wilderness. It’s what HE experienced. AND it’s what Jesus will tell his disciples is his own work in just a few verses: 10:45 “I cam not to be served, but to serve.” That is, this serving (diaconia) is holy work! It’s Kingdom work. It’s the sign and the joy that she is healed and able to be who she is- fully. This is resurrected life.
What keeps us from being who we are fully? Can we feel the hand of Jesus reach down to raise us up from our illness to serve? This doesn’t mean we are suddenly perfect—just like it sets up for Jesus that his own resurrection will not just be an event of personal triumph—but it points to whole gift of the resurrection for ALL of creation: A new order—Kingdom of Heaven—that will unfold in the coming days and weeks. Just as this one has been set free from illness—and potentially death—her healing is complete as she joyfully participates in this new order that is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. That is, to what Jesus’ role and discipleship look like. There is a deep authority in her serving, tied to the heart of Jesus’ own authority and ministry.
The Good News is so much more than salvation from a fever or a virus. It’s something that points to what we always knew was there in every part of our lives—whether it’s serving food, caring for our sick relatives, building something, writing something: We are frees to revel in this God that Isaiah says “To Whom will you compare me?” and yet is always comparing God to all these things we know: a savior, a potter, a rock, a helper, a mother, a shepherd, a lover, a woman in labor. God agency CAN be found in all these things we know and do: So human that they are. Like a hand reaching down. Thanks be to God. Amen.