The story of the healing of Peter’s mother -in-law ( suffering from a fever) comes right on the heals of last Sunday’s story of the casting out of the unclean spirit form the man in the synagogue. There the action is large and dramatic. A demon cries and confronts and challenges Jesus. His vaguely threatening jab ( “I know who you are”) is answered by the even stronger word of Jesus. Christ’s command, his word, his teaching with authority triumphs over the forces of Satan. It is a battle of two voices, God’s and Satan’s.
In this scene however the foe which confronts Jesus is much smaller, more on a familiar and recognizable scale. A fever. A mother-in-law. We see sickness everyday, families in a house are well-known to all of us. The disciples tell Jesus about her and he comes and takes her by the hand, lifts her up and the fever leaves her. She then begins to minster to Jesus and the apostles who are lodged there.
The contrast with the previous story is great. Here the lesson seems to be that while the drama of the incarnation and atonement , the arrival of God in human flesh to work redemption, is cosmic in its scope (as the previous story told us) it is also individual and small, pertaining to each one and to each one’s sins and sorrows and troubles. If Christ defeats the powers and principalities of this world, he also defeats the enemies hiding in the living room and the aches and pains that threaten a humble follower.
There is also a contrast in the method by which Jesus heals. In the previous story, the attention was all on the word of Jesus, his teaching, his voice. Here the attention is on his hands, his flesh. (There is a contrast also, by the way, between Mark and Luke on this point. Luke has this story being very similar to the unclean spirit in the synagogue; Jesus rebukes the fever and the fever departs.) Jesus heals Peter’s mother –in-law by taking her by the hand and lifting her up. The effect is as at once powerful and gentle. There is no rebuking, no speaking at all. The power resides in his touch, in his hand, in his body, in the flesh which the Word made flesh. While the instrument of healing differs between voice and touch, the one doing the healing remains the same. Christ can speak and what he says must be and he can also extend his saving power though his own body and blood.
There are (at least !) a couple of sermonic themes here. First is directing the hearers to find themselves in the person of Peter’s mother-in-law. Not many of us have been demon possessed (though surely under his influence and temptation and attack) but we have been all been sick, all had a fever, all been laid up in bed. Sickness which is small, troubles which harass, are nonetheless the object of God’s saving power in Christ, To put it more colloquially, no problem is too small for God. No sin is too small for God. The incarnation reaches human nature as a whole and every individual as a single created person in the image of God.
The second sermonic avenue worth exploring is the cross and eucharist. If Jesus rebuking the demon and teaching with authority pointed to the Word of the Gospel among us, the preached and written Word, then todays story points to the power of his flesh. The power, first of all, of the that flesh which by its passion crushes the hold of Satan and death. The gentle touch of Jesus and his lifting up Peter’s mother- in-law suggests his condescension to our sick and sinful and dying flesh and his lifting us up to eternal life through his resurrection. On the cross he burns with ever fever that has ever been, every cancer, every adultery, every lie, every sin. Yet he grabs us and does not let go until he has raised us up from our bed to stand with Him in his glory.
This same flesh which touched Peter’s mother-in-law and bled on the cross reaches to us in the Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is the healing touch of Jesus among us. If His voice rebukes our sin and creates ex nihilo forgiveness, he also grabs us and lifts us up into his own glorious life by his body and blood given to us. He has not left us bereft of any aspect of his ministry. We do not have less than Simon’s mother in law. We have more. He gives us his very body and blood, God incarnate, for us to eat and drink. If his mere touch chased away a fever then we can know that the forgiveness of our sin is a sure and certain joy delivered by His sacrament.
A final bit of information which is very interesting is the final comment that Mark makes about the effect of the healing : She began to serve them. All three Synoptics include the phrase δινκονει meaning to serve or minster. Jesus heals and she begins to work. He has risen her up in order that she might ( in the words of Luther’s Catechism ) be his own live under him in his kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness innocence and blessedness. In other words Jesus heals her nad what results is that she returns to her daily vocation of serving her household. Having been healed and her faith strengthened, her faith shows itself in her daily life and service that God has placed her in.
So it is for us in the Supper and the Divine service. We take Christ’s body ad blood and are not transported to some “spiritual” experience beyond our physical realm, but we are placed smack down in our jobs, families, houses and schools. One of the post communion collects mention that the purpose of the sacrament is “faith toward you and fervent love toward one another”. Peters mother in law dsiplays that fervent love which results from reception of the Lord’s healing touch. The connection between the Lord’s supper and daily life is in the flesh and blood reality of both Christ and us. Christ gives his very body and blood which we receive with our very bodies, which bodies having been hallowed by the touch of the Word made flesh, go about their tasks with thanksgiving and strength.