Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Healing of a Woman

We have seen two examples of those who recognized Jesus' authority - a leper and a centurion. Now let's look at the third in our trio - a woman.

Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served him. When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “ He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.” Matt. 8:14-17

In true storyteller fashion, let's look at the setting first. We are in Peter's house in Capernaum. Since there is no mention of Peter's invitation for Jesus to come and dine with his family, it is not a stretch to believe that Jesus has been here before, and often. It was not uncommon for a teacher to frequent the homes of their students, and some have even suggested that Jesus might have lived with Peter and his extended family. We can't be sure, of course, but such a thing would not be out of step with the customs of the time.

Another clue to his familiarity with the people involved is his response to Peter's mother-in-law. In the previous two incidents Jesus is requested to deal with the afflictions of the leper and the centurion's servant. In this case however, he simply acts. He walks in, sees the need and without a word to anyone, he touches her and she is healed. No intercession is required; it is as if his ministering to her is a forgone conclusion.

Nevertheless, she is still a woman, and for an unrelated Jewish male to reach out and touch a woman (unless he is dragging her off to be stoned) is a rare thing. Like lepers and Gentiles, women existed at the fringes of Jewish society, though admittedly their circle was a little closer to the centre than the Gentile centurion, who would have been more welcome than the leper. Even within their own families there were rules as to which men with whom they could and could not interact. Outside the family ties, the restrictions were even worse. Jesus' actions demonstrate that the woman's relationship with him, with this Son of David, supersedes all other relationships. He is here to heal her and mere custom will not prevent that from happening.

Interesting too, is her response to his touch. The leper recognized Jesus' authority but was unsure of His willingness to help a leper; keeping his distance while at the same time holding onto hope. The centurion sees things more clearly. He has no doubts about Jesus' ability to command, so much so he does not require the physical connection for his faith to bear fruit. But this woman, who is healed without intersession, without preamble, responds to Jesus' authority in the deepest way possible - she serves him.

There are some who will tell you that her servitude is a trademark of her position in society, that this woman is so beaten down she has been conditioned to serve. But I think not. In Mark's account of this event the language is such that one might draw that conclusion; "she served them," a generic plurality that could easily be taken to refer to all the males present. But Matthew's language is more precise, "she arose and served him." This man is her son-in-law's teacher. She has heard his words, she has seen his character, and now she has felt the power in his touch. For those who live in close contact with the Son of David, service is the only fitting response.

And so she serves, and she opens her home to those who would find what she has found - healing. Well into the night they come; the sick, the demon-possessed, all those that society is ill-equipped to deal with. In these three incidents Jesus puts into action the fundamental truths he spoke forth on the hillside. The kingdom of God is not restricted to those who fit the pattern. The kingdom is offered to all who are in need. The leper, the Gentile, the woman -- the outcast, the stranger, the marginalized; these are the ones for whom the Kingdom of God was created.

On a tablet within the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands, familiar words are carved...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Many nations have sought to emulate the kingdom of God here on earth, with varying degrees of success. Most have failed to do so because the Kingdom of God is not a kingdom in time and space, it is a kingdom that lives in the hearts of those who would be its citizens.

And make no mistake, while one cannot earn that citizenship, there is a price to be paid if one seeks to fulfill it. As those who approach Jesus in our next installment will learn.


Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 16.

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