“Thank you.” That’s the appropriate response when someone does something nice, or does you a favor, or helps you out. “Thank you very much.”
But what is the appropriate response when someone does something really big. Like saves your life? Is a simple “Thank you” enough?
Are we forever in their debt? Do we owe them something?
I wonder about this as we read today’s gospel lesson.
This is a continuation of the story we heard last week. You may recall the man tearing through the synagogue, possessed by some unclean spirit. And Jesus casts out that spirit and restores the man.
The man needed healing and Jesus was his physician. And today, Jesus gets to keep that white coat on. His disciple Simon’s mother-in-law was very sick. She’s got a fever and the only prescription is Jesus’ touch.
This is a little bit of a contrast to last week—instead of some great public exorcism, this time it’s smaller, quieter, more private. It’s a reminder that Jesus doesn’t just work in some big spectacular fashion. Healings aren’t limited to those big extravagant acts that televangelists are so fond of.
Jesus simply touches her hand, lifts her up in the bed, and suddenly she’s made well.
But it’s her response to this that really caught my attention.
“Then the fever left her,” writes Mark, “and she began to serve them.”
She began to serve them? That’s not exactly the response I’d expect from someone recovering from an illness.
It’s like saying: “Oh, Mom, I’m so glad you’re well—thanks be to God—now, could you go make me a sandwich?”
I can’t really imagine that would go over so well if I said that to my mother: “Uh, no, dear, you make your own sandwich. You know where the bread is!”
There’s a lot going on in this little detail. We could look at it with dismay at the gender roles on display. Oh, they were so backward then—the women do all the work around the house and the men just kick back on the sofa.
And there’s a lot more we could say about that, but I don’t really think that’s the point of this passage. The important thing is to understand the immediacy of the response.
She immediately got up and went about her day. There was no recovery time. No time just to stay off her feet. No lag while the medicine kicked in. Jesus’ healing was so complete, so deep, that she had no reason to stay down.
And she began to serve them.
The key word here is “serve.” And if we look a little deeper, we see that it means to provide for, to attend to, to take care of. The word pops up again as Jesus was dying on the cross—the women served Jesus at his death—even as all his disciples had scattered.
When Simon’s mother-in-law became better, she immediately began to take care of Jesus, to care for him.
In our second lesson today, Paul writes about speaking the good news about Jesus. “An obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”
Jesus also touched Paul, he lifted him up—or rather, knocked off his horse—Jesus restored Paul, even as he was persecuting Jesus’ followers. He took Paul off the pathway of hatred and violence and death and onto a different route of love and mercy.
And in return for this, Paul embraced this obligation—not a burden or a task—but rather, need to express his gratitude, a need to tell everyone what Jesus had done and is doing. Like the woman in our story, Paul sought to serve Jesus, going the extra mile, becoming whatever he needed to be to complete his mission.
And that’s the response that we all should strive for when Jesus touches us, when Jesus heals us. Yes, we express our gratitude, yes we rejoice, but we also serve him, provide for his children—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. Service is much deeper than a simple act of hospitality. Through service, we follow Jesus in his journey through this world.
Think about a moment in your life when Jesus touched you, when Jesus lifted you up out of bed and restored you. Maybe that was an actual healing, maybe that was a release of anxiety or depression or fear, maybe it was a life-giving opportunity. Think about that moment.
And then, think about your response. Was it gratitude? Was it a shrug? Was it a “Thanks Jesus, now I can go about my day!”
What would happen if our response to Jesus’ healing presence is one of deeper service? Of deeper commitment to God?
This is not a quid pro quo—you know, I do something for you, you do something for me type of arrangement. Jesus the physician doesn’t present us with the hospital bill, after all. And that’s a good thing because we’d never be able to pay it. No, the charge has already been paid, through the God’s power and grace. We are already set free from any obligation to return the favor.
Instead, all that is left to do is live out our gratitude. To live lives that reflect all that God has done for us. To be generous with the blessings that God has given us. To be kind to all those around us. Love our neighbor and our enemies. Shine our lights into the darkness of this world.
The fever comes in many forms—and not all of them are physical. But God’s healing comes in many forms as well. Not always extravagant or public, not always dramatic and life-altering. Sometimes its in the privacy of our own rooms or our own hearts. A simple lift up out of bed. Jesus’ healing touch comes to us through this church, through our friends, through unexpected strangers. It is always there just when we need it. Thanks be to God.