Scripture: And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” Matthew 8:14-17 ESV
Observation: Having healed a centurion’s servant in Capernaum, Jesus next visits Peter’s family in this same seaside town. Matthew’s story finds its more lengthy parallel in Mark 1:21-31 and Luke 4:31-39. So while Mark and Luke seek a greater breadth of historicity, Matthew focuses on verifying the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, particularly Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:4) in this passage.
Regarding Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever, scholars surmise malaria likely caused it. The only other citations of fever (John 4:52 and Acts 28:8) present symptoms that also point to malaria. Thus, similar to the previous story of touching an unclean leper, Jesus risks his life by drawing near and holding Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand. And like the leper, she is immediately healed. Additionally, she begins to serve Jesus, implying a sense of gratitude. Thus, being refreshed by her hospitality, that evening, Jesus continued to heal many others of their spiritual and physical illnesses.
Of note, while Mark and Luke add to their version of this story that earlier Jesus exorcised a demon-possessed man in the synagogue on this Sabbath day, the above evening healings would have occurred after the conclusion of the Sabbath at sunset. Thus, waiting until night to continue healing others, Jesus protected those who otherwise would have violated the Sabbath by commuting a distance greater than a Sabbath walk (a capital offense).
Takeaway: As theologian Michael Wilkins notes, Jesus crossed established cultural boundaries regarding:
- purity (touching an unclean leper, 8:1-4);
- ethnicity (engaging with a Roman soldier, 8:5-13); and
- gender (healing Peter’s mother, 8:14-16).
To a certain extent, all three supplicants experienced marginalization by the religious authorities and by all who followed their lead. In this story, Jesus causes no further concern of ostracisation by discretely healing Peter’s mother-in-law and then more conspicuously healing those who visited after dark once the Sabbath ended. This sensitivity to the vulnerable shows that while Christ is fully prepared to suffer, he does not push others to do the same until they discern and accept their calling.
Speaking of calling, while Peter and Andrew received their calling to follow Christ at the family business in Bethsaida (John 1:44), they subsequently moved their trade to Capernaum—raising the question of what it means to leave it all behind and follow Jesus. While Christ says we must be willing to leave behind our families and homes to follow him (Matthew 8:18-22, Luke 14:25-27), it is not a prerequisite. But holding greater love and affection for him over family and friends is (10:35-39).
So what’s our takeaway? Here are the four from this short passage:
- Jesus intentionally sought the marginalized, which includes you and me. He paid no attention to those who were self-sufficient and self-justified. Indeed, while the Gospel invitation is for all, not all are ready to receive Christ’s grace and forgiveness. Thus, like Jesus, we will be more productive picking the “low-hanging fruit” of lost souls searching for hope.
- Jesus continues to touch us at the deepest parts of our minds, bodies, and spirits and bring healing. It may not be in our timing or the manner we request, but he cares about our well-being here and now so that we might be fit to follow him onward and upward.
- Jesus did not recklessly conduct his ministry without regarding how it would impact others. We need to remember this as we engage in ministry and take the time to discern how our decisions and actions will affect those around us.
- Jesus requires no prerequisites beyond confessing our sins and receiving his gift of grace through faith. While we may need to leave behind the comfort of our homes, family, and friends to continue to follow him, we must not preemptively take matters into our hands. He will show us what we need to leave behind in due time.
Of further consideration, the Father required infinitely more of his Son than the Son commands of us, for the one who bore our diseases in his body absorbed the most fatal of them all at Calvary: our sins. And to ensure that no one or nothing can separate us from his love, he gifted us with the Holy Spirit, who guides us in all righteousness, ensuring the preservation of our souls. And his Holy Spirit will continue to graciously show us what we need to shed to ensure that our journeys are fruitful and glorify the Father and Son. Our part? Like Peter’s Mother-in-law, love and serve him.
Prayer: Father God, we are immeasurably grateful for your Son, who faithfully served you and us unto death. That said, you know how easily we become distracted by our and our loved ones’ circumstances and fail to prioritize our time and resources to follow his lead. So would you please help us pause and discern your will so we might love and serve both of you with gladness and singleness of heart and mind? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling