I used to not like the story in the first part of today’s Gospel passage about the healing of Simon’s Mother-in-law. There was something that struck my modern awareness of the subjugation of women in various times and cultures that suggested her immediate “service” or “waiting on” Jesus, Simon, Andrew, and the gang, right after she was healed from her illness was offensive. That is until I had a better appreciation for what I see as a connection between this passage, which appears in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel and a passage that appears eight chapters later.
The section that I’m talking about for today reads:
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them. (Mark 1:29-31)
What is interesting about this is that what really is being described here is Simon’s (unfortunately unnamed) mother-in-law’s diakonos. Her “service” or “waiting on” is not simply the labor of someone confined to domestic servitude, doing the stereotypical “woman’s work” of a subjugated First-Century woman, but the action of a disciple following in the truest sense the example and call of Jesus Christ.
It is no accident that she does this immediately after receiving the healing touch of Jesus.
Having been healed of her illness, of her brokenness, of her separation from the life of community in seclusion, she recognizes — perhaps only intuitively, but certainly by the Spirit — that it falls to her to share that healing gift of service, diakonos, with others in return for God’s love and healing.
This is the same language that is used later in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus comes across his bickering disciples on a walk along the road. They fight over “who is the greatest,” and Jesus, drawing on the same action, the same diakonos, of Simon’s mother-in-law, tells the two clueless followers that the greatest disciple is the one who does what Simon’s mother-in-law does: Recognize the healing presence of God in his or her life and then serves others.
It is rather unexpected, I suppose, but a great model no less. Instead of a symbol of subjugation and marginalization, the service (diakonos) of Simon’s mother-in-law is a model of authentic and true Christian discipleship.