Posted on in Sermons by The Rev. David Marshall
Year B, 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
There is a curious little passage in today’s Gospel reading that is both inspiring and disturbing. Jesus leaves the synagogue in Capernaum and enters Simon and Andrew’s house. As soon as he gets there they tell him that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her. That’s the inspiring part. The disturbing part is what happens next: and she began to serve them.
This woman has been sick in bed for who knows how long, and when Jesus lifts her up and heals her, she doesn’t take any time to recuperate, she immediately serves them. To our ears, with our contemporary beliefs on the roles of women, this is just a bit arcane and could even be called sexist. Couldn’t Simon have fixed some sandwiches for the guys and let her rest a bit?
Part of what is going on here is certainly the difference in the roles and expectations for women from that time to today. But there is actually something else, something very important and very powerful going on here if we just look closely at the text in the original Greek.
You see, Simon’s mother-in-law may just be one of the women who stood faithfully and bravely with Jesus at his crucifixion in Mark 15:40-41:
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
The Greek word translated as “serve” in this week’s reading is diakonos, and that’s exactly the same as the word translated as “provided for” in 15:41. This week we hear, Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. In chapter 15, verse 41, it reads, These[women] used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee. A more helpful translation would be, “These used to follow him and serve him when he was in Galilee.”
Simon’s mother-in-law is the first woman who served Jesus – diakonos – she is the first deacon! And when Jesus hung on the cross and all the men had fled in fear, she was among those women who stayed with Jesus.
When Jesus sees Simon’s mother-in-law lying with a fever, he raises her up and frees her from the fever. She is freed from her infirmity and freed for the meaning and purpose of her life. She becomes a disciple. She becomes a deacon. She serves and follows Jesus.
Jesus frees us not only from things that seek to oppress us, but also for a life of purpose, meaning, and good works. Last week we talked about the things that have power over us – the demons of our lives. Remember, a demon is anything that has power over your life that is not of God. Addictions, resentments, avarice, lust, greed, anger and envy can all have power over our lives. You may not think of any of these emotions or conditions or afflictions as demons, but they can have power over our lives nonetheless.
Jesus frees us from demons, the things that have power or influence over our lives, by teaching us to turn to God with gratitude and reverence. Last week I asked you to continue the homework assignment from two weeks ago now, and spend time each day giving thanks, praying silently, and seeking opportunities for acts of kindness. I want you to continue to do these things because in them you will be freed from your demons, from your sins, and you will be freed for God. We need freedom from sin, and the malignant powers of this world so that we may be freed for God and the life God calls us to live.
Famed theologian Frederick Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Our demons keep us from knowing the true purpose and meaning of our lives. We need to be freed from the things that have power over us in this world to know where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.
So I end this week’s sermon by asking you, once again, to make time each day for prayer. Find a quiet time and comfortable spot to pray. Begin by giving thanks to God, and then sit quietly, with your eyes closed, being aware of your feelings, your body, the chair you are sitting in, and your breath. Breath slowly, evenly, and comfortably for ten breaths, and then give thanks to God again. Many people like to use a meditation resource, like the Forward Day by Day booklets. These contain a brief scripture reading and a reflection on that reading. You could read the Forward Day by Day for the day and then do a silent meditation. Give yourself the gift of being freed from the distractions and afflictions of the world so that you might be freed for the purpose and meaning of your life.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
February 8, 2015