Straight from the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus goes off to Simon Peter’s house along with brother Andrew and James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t feeling terribly well. She’s been running a bit of a fever. Probably one of those 24-hour bug things. A little rest, a little chicken soup, a couple of aspirin and she’ll be fine. It’s not a big deal, really, not with all those demon-possessed and diseased people crowding the doorway pushing after Jesus.
Yet there is Jesus, in the little house, completely there for this woman with the flu. He comes to her bedside, bends down, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. At that very moment,it’s as though there was no one else in the world but this woman. And there is no doubt as to why Jesus is there. He is there for her.
He gently lifts her up by the hand, and the fever leaves her, without so much as a Word. He sure makes it look easy, doesn’t He? Simply a touch and the fever is gone. And to make things even more unremarkable, she gets up from her sickbed and begins to serve them. Puts the water on and makes some coffee and sets out some cookies. Nice, but hardly the stuff of headlines.
As miracles go, this is an unremarkable one. Almost not even worth reporting, really. Actually, I’m more surprised to find out that Peter is married and has a mother-in-law than that she recovered from her fever after a visit from Jesus People recover from fevers all the time. A few months ago, I woke up at 1 in the morning knowing I wasn’t feeling well. By 6 AM, I was running a 102 degree temperature, shivering with fever chills under a pile of blankets. I spent the whole day in bed. By 6 PM, I was feeling fine again and having dinner. A miracle? That’s not what we would usually call it. I can assure you that I prayed, as best I could, with the blankets piled high on top of me, but you probably wouldn’t classify it as a miracle. Nor did I, to tell you the truth.
But the text would have us rethink and repent. We’re caught in our own little version of what is called materialistic naturalism – the notion that natural events always have a natural cause. It’s a basic assumption in the natural sciences today. It’s one way to keep the idea of a Creator out of the creation and the curriculum. Nature is natural, and therefore nature must have a natural cause. Of course, it doesn’t really explain how everything can start out from nothing, but hey, that’s about as far as you can go if you want to leave God out of the picture.
Now that may be a bit over your head or off your radar screen or out in left field, which are all ways of saying, “So what?” Unless you’re arguing with a Darwinist or the local school board over science texts, it may not mean all that much and you may not care all that much. But when it comes to the sneezes and sniffles, the colds and flus, and possibly for some even the cancers and clogged arteries, we’re pretty much materialists. We’ve been trained by science and medicine to see natural causes as the ultimate cause, the final word on health and healing. If the fever breaks and the flu goes away and we regain our strength to serve, then it was the pills we took or our immune system or the vitamin B shot or whatever. No, I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor, don’t take your prescriptions, don’t watch your diet and exercise. These are all gifts of God – the doctors, the medicines, the tests, and treatment. But these are instruments, tools in the toolbox of the Great Physician in whom there is life and health. The healing may come through medicines, or even the natural healing processes of our wonderfully designed bodies, but all healing, regardless of means and methods, comes from Jesus, the Incarnate Word through whom we are made and in whom there is life.
Notice that it’s all the same to Jesus – whether a case of the flu or a case of the demonic. He treats it all the same way – with His touch and His Word.
Every disease, whether the demons or the diseases, the life threatening or the simply annoying, is a sign of the Fall, the disorder of God’s ordered creation, the groanings of a world subject to futility, decay and death. Every illness, including those little colds and flus, are signs of our own death, mirrors of our mortality reflecting that harsh reality that we are natural born children of Adam subject to Adam’s death. Every healing, including the little ones when the fever breaks at the end of the day, are little resurrections, small reminders that the One who suffered for our sins on the cross is our health and strength. “By His wounds we are healed.”
What Jesus did for the gathered many outside the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, He does for this poor, fever-stricken woman with His own personal touch. Jesus could have wiped out disease in the world in one blast of His Word, one divine flu shot to cover the whole world. But that isn’t His way. Instead, He bends down to touch this woman in her own home. And then He spends the greater part of the afternoon and evening doing the same for others.
He draws all to Himself in His being lifted up on the cross, embracing and embodying the world. He is God’s love to the world. And yet He applies this gift personally, individually, to each one – in Baptism, as the water is poured on you. In the Absolution, as hands are touched to your head and words of life and forgiveness are put into your ears. In the Supper, where you receive with your mouths the gifts of His sacrifice, His own Body and Blood, touching you, taking you by the hand, lifting you up from the fever of your sin and death, raising you to a life of grateful service. All of it “for you,” as personally “for you” as Jesus was for Peter’s mother-in-law.
Early in the morning, before sunrise, Jesus arose and went off by Himself to pray. You would think that He would ride this wave of celebrity. The crowds were great, the word was out, the opportunity was great. But Jesus goes off by Himself to pray. The disciples go looking for Jesus and tell Him what He already knows: Everyone is looking for you. And His response? “Let’s go to another town, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”
He didn’t come to put a temporary bandage on our wounds. You know what happens to bandages; they wash off in the next shower. Jesus came to heal our wounds ultimately and finally, once and for all. He came to preach, to proclaim the kingdom, to suffer, die, and rise and so to deal decisively with the cause of disease and death.
The fact is Peter’s mother-in-law would get sick again. There would be other colds and flus and fevers. One day, she should die from one of them. The medical report and her obituary would read that she “died of natural causes.” Again, that naturalism of ours. Death by natural causes, as if death were nothing more than the natural order of things.
The ultimae cause of death is anything but natural. It is the unnatural wages of our sin, the chaos of our rebellion, the disorder of our humanity living in denial of God and making gods out of ourselves. All those diseased and demonized people whom Jesus healed would one day die of something. But they would know, as Peter’s mother-in-law would know, whom to trust in the day – the One who touched them with His healing touch, who silenced their demons with a Word, who hung on a cross in the darkness, who rose from the dead in the early morning. They would know that though they die, yet in Jesus they would live, and living and trusting Jesus, they would never die forever.
There was an interesting change in the post-communion blessing with the new hymnal. Have you noticed it? “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. We used to say “in the true faith,” but now we say “in body and soul.” While I greatly appreciate the old and its emphasis on right believing, the new is a reminder that Jesus came to deal with our death and conquer it, that would is good for our souls is also good for our bodies, that He is the ultimate Source and Cause of our own health and strength, and that there is a coming Day when we will finally realize and receive this in our own bodies, when Jesus bends down to our grave, takes us by the hand, and awakens us from death to life just as He once raised Peter’s mother-in-law from her sickbed.
You too, dear baptized believer. You’ve been touched by God in the water of your Baptism. You hear the Word of His preaching. You receive His Supper, what the ancient church called the “medicine of immortality.” You have His Word of promise to you.
“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but you who wait for the Lord shall renew your strength; you shall mount up with wings like eagles; you shall run and not be weary; you shall walk and not faint.”
In the name of Jesus,