This morning I want to let you in on a little secret: I do not actually love all of the Bible. Now I know, I am a priest. I am supposed to love all of Holy Scripture, the tome of inspired words from God. Even in our ordination, priests proclaim, “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.”[i] And while I do believe what I said in my ordination about Scripture, there are still things in Holy Scripture that make me cringe, and, quite frankly, make me dread preaching them.
Today’s lesson from Mark is one of those texts. We read of the miraculous healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, and my immediate reaction is, “Great! Here we go again! A woman gets healed, and what’s the first thing she does? Go to the kitchen and make the men some food.” I was bracing myself this week for how I was going to stand here and talk about a woman being healed – actually, not just healed, but the word in the Greek is “raised” – the same word used for what happens to Jesus in his resurrection in Mark 16.6.[ii] I was all ready to go with my defensive theology when I read the words of one scholar. He simply says about the mother-in-law, “Mark introduces the first deacon in the New Testament.”[iii]
My daughters and I enjoy reading a periodical called Bravery Magazine. Every quarter a new edition features a woman who has shown bravery in the course of her life. The one my younger daughter and I are reading now is about Eugenie Clark, a famous marine biologist, sometimes referred to as “The Shark Lady.” Eugenie broke all kinds of boundaries about what women could do, but throughout our readings about her, one quote from her stuck with me, “I don’t work at something because I think it’s important. I work at things that, to me, are interesting.”[iv] In other words, Eugenie did not set out to care for marine life because she wanted to prove women are equal to men. She set out to love and care for marine life because she found that work interesting – or as we might say, she was living out her call or vocation.
The same can be said about the mother-in-law of Simon. She is not simply serving Jesus and the men with him. She is not even “bowing to cultural convention, keeping in her restricted place as a servant.” She is being a deacon, a “disciple who quietly demonstrates the high honor of service for those who follow Jesus.”[v] What those labeled as disciples do not understand, and as one scholar reminds us, will not understand until Easter, is being a disciple of Jesus means becoming servants. These named disciples will fight this reality the entire life of Jesus, in fact, later in Mark vying for primacy and privilege. But this woman, as scholar Ofelia Ortega says, this resurrected mother-in-law, “has overcome all the selfishness and restrictive teachings and has been close to Jesus; deep down she is already a Christian, diakonisa [deacon], a servant of the church gathered in her son-in-law’s house…her diaconal work is the beginning and announcement of the gospel.”[vi]
As much as I would like to argue we are all like the mother-in-law, no matter what our gender, I think most of us are more like the male disciples, who are still trying to figure out discipleship. We are still busy trying to rush Jesus out of his time of prayer to do more work, to control or contain the work of the Messiah, and certainly to guard our dignity in our daily lives. But what the mother-in-law reminds us this week, is that if we wish to seek Jesus, to know and feel the presence of God, to understand our call in this crazy world, our first job is to serve: to return to our baptismal covenant promise of seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
So how do we do we do this? How do we shake ourselves out of own sense of control, our own agenda, or even, especially these days, our sense of weariness about this world? We claim our discipleship, our invitation to serve. We may start very small. Maybe we start in our families like the mother-in-law and serve – not begrudgingly emptying that dishwasher while muttering, but joyfully honoring the ways Jesus has raised us up and given us power to serve. Maybe we start with our neighbors, those feeling lonely or anxious, and send them a card or make them a meal. Or maybe we start with those unknown to us who are suffering and serve them through advocacy or our labor. We do not have to fully understand our service, and we will likely fail at doing that servant ministry as faithfully as the mother-in-law. But Jesus has raised us up so that we can start afresh each new day. Amen.
[i] BCP, 526.
[ii] Ofelia Ortega, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 334.
[iii] Gary W. Charles, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 335.
[iv] Beard Elyse, editor, Bravery Magazine: Eugenie Clark, vol. 13, The Prolific Group, 2020, 4.
[v] Charles, 335.
[vi] Ortega, 334.