by Margaret Cumings
In the early days of my internship,
I had a brilliant idea for the Bible study I led with a group of neighborhood seniors.
"They will love talking about Mary and Martha," I thought.
I prepared a handout-they did love my handouts-
and imagined the delight these elderly women would take
in discovering the feminist liberation approach of Barbara Reid,
which I had studied in seminary the year before.
Serving, I told them excitedly, does not mean only cooking and cleaning.
For Martha, it may mean being the leader of a house church.
Isn't that great?
Isn't that liberating and empowering?
I sat back and waited to be overwhelmed with excited questions and discussion.
These women-Marthas and Marys and Bettys alike-were having none of it.
They knew what it meant to serve:
it meant to wash and scrub, to boil and bake,
to provide for other people before you took care of yourself.
They dismissed Martha's complaint to Jesus.
As one of the Bettys put it, "She knew Jesus was coming.
She should have had the house ready before he got there."
And so, when I hear the story of the healing of Simon's mother-in-law,
I hear it with Archie, Loretta, and all three Bettys.
Archie, whose caramel cake is the stuff of legend, smiles and says,
"I'll bet she made them a nice dinner."
Loretta, who never shows up without at least one dish of food to share,
shrugs and adds, "Of course! What else would she do?"
To me, it doesn't seem like much.
The healed woman does not leave everything to follow Jesus,
like the disciples who witness her healing.
She does not learn to cast out demons or heal others, as Jesus does.
She just serves her son-in-law and his friends.
Some translations say that the woman "took care of all their needs"
or that she "waited on them."
In response to Jesus' healing touch-
to being lifted up, raised as Jesus will be in the resurrection-
Simon's mother-in-law makes a casserole and dishes it up.
She is no Martha, who may be the leader of a house church.
She is a woman like many others, serving the way many women do.
But she is also serving the way the angels have done:
ministering to Jesus in her home as angels ministered to him
while he was being tempted in the wilderness.
She is serving the way the women at the cross will do:
ministering to Jesus in Capernaum as those women will minister to him on the road. She is serving the way Jesus urges all his disciples to do,
the way Jesus himself will serve:
for even "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."
The healed woman is nameless, and speechless, and soon to be left behind.
But in her service, she understands and embodies the ideal of discipleship
that Simon and Andrew, James and John, will never get quite right.
"Everyone is searching for you," says the breathless Simon,
urging Jesus to return to Capernaum, to bask in his popularity as a great healer.
"Have some more cake," says the beaming mother-in-law,
ministering to Jesus as he has ministered to her.
As usual, it's Betty T. who draws our attention back to Jesus.
She thinks of her own daughter-in-law, who does so much for her, and says,
"Jesus heals people who need him."
Jesus finds and heals us: whether we are alone in our homes,
in worship at the synagogue, or in a crowd at the doorstep.
With a touch, Jesus lifts us up, raising and restoring us to life.
Christ is on the move, healing and casting out demons
and proclaiming the message:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news!"
He does not wait for adulation;
does not stay in one place long enough to become simply a celebrated wonder worker.
Instead, Jesus presses on, to serve rather than be served, to do what he came out to do.
Because Jesus does what he came out to do-
because he is faithful to his mission-
Simon's mother-in-law can be faithful to hers.
It may not be much.
For all we know, the healed woman's caramel cake is dry and crumbly.
Maybe she uses a mix!
But this woman has been touched by the healing hand of Christ,
and it is his hand that leads her forward, guiding her in service and faith.
It is Christ's healing hand that touches each of us:
in the greeting of peace we share,
in the sign of the cross we make across our bodies,
in the benediction and sending we receive.
Christ goes on, doing what he came out to do.
And, lifted up by his restoring hand,
we follow as we can.
Thanks be to God!