When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’
… she got up and began to serve him …
Today’s reading gives more testimony to Jesus’ power to heal. Yesterday we heard of the Jewish leper who was healed because of his faith; today we here of that same power of healing being extended to a Roman centurion who was pleading on behalf of his slave. As the Roman soldier showed compassion, so did Jesus. Jesus’ healing touch is a gift to all.
Then we come to one of those small moments in the gospel narrative, a moment that seems like a throwaway detail. Jesus went to Peter’s house, found his mother-in-law ill in bed and cured her. Then, later in the evening, he continued his ministry of healing. But, in the middle of this there are a few significant words: and she got up and began to serve him.
When we are unwell, so unwell that we have to take to our beds, we often feel the need for a period of convalescence, a time to regain our strength and energy. When that time has come to its natural end, then we feel able to rise from our sick beds and go about our normal daily work. This was not the case with Peter’s mother-in-law. She went from lying in bed with a fever to getting up and serving Jesus without a moment’s hesitation. Some may argue that the period of recovery should be taken as ‘understood’, a detail that Matthew did not feel the need to include. But, I believe there is more to this than we might imagine.
Jesus has been healing many people. He has been healing so many people that there would be neither room nor time to record all of the details in just one narrative. But, this healing was different because it was personal. Jesus was healing a close relative of one of his disciples. This detail gives the gospel writer the opportunity to show us just how complete and profound that healing was. Once Jesus had offered his healing touch everything was made well. Everything was made so well that there was no need for a period of self-indulgent ‘recovery’. Instead, as her strength was restored by this close experience of Jesus’ power, the only appropriate response was one of loving service to her Lord.
We so often wallow in our human condition. We feel sorrow for ourselves, sometimes long after God has answered our prayers and healed the hurts of our lives. Today’s reading, alongside yesterday’s, shows us that there is only one acceptable course of action. As Jesus shows his love for us and restores us to new life, so we should be ready to respond in a spirit of loving service.
Let us pray that we might set aside our human weakness and rejoice in the strength which comes from God alone. Let us pray that all may come to know the power of Jesus’ healing touch in their lives. Let us never fail to thank God for the strength he gives us to love and serve in his name.