A MIRACLE IN A COTTAGE
And when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed. ill with a fever. So lie touched her hand and the fever left her. And she rose, and busied herself serving them.
When we compare Mark’s narrative of events with that of Matthew, we see that this incident happened in Capernaum, on the Sabbath day, after Jesus had worshipped in the synagogue. When Jesus was in Capernaum, his headquarters were in the house of Peter, for Jesus never had any home of his own. Peter was married, and legend has it that in the after days Peter’s wife was his helper in the work of the gospel. Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 7: 6) tells us that Peter and his wife were martyred together. Peter, so the story runs, had the grim ordeal of seeing, his wife suffer before he suffered himself. “On seeing his wife led to death, Peter rejoiced on account of her call and her conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, `Remember thou the Lord.'”
On this occasion Peter’s wife’s mother was ill with a fever. There were three kinds of fever which were common in Palestine. There was a fever which was called Malta fever, and which was marked by weakness, anaemia and wasting away, and which lasted for months, and often ended in a decline which finished in death. There was what was called intermittent fever, which may well have been very like typhoid fever. And above all there was malaria. In the regions where the Jordan River entered and left the Sea of Galilee there was marshy ground; there the malarial mosquitoes bred and flourished, and both Capernaum and Tiberias were areas where malaria was very prevalent. It was often accompanied by jaundice and ague, and was a most wretched and miserable experience for the sufferer from it. It was most likely malaria from which Peter’s wife’s mother was suffering.
This miracle tells us much about Jesus, and not a little about the woman whom he cured.
(i) Jesus had come from the synagogue; there he had dealt with and had cured the demon-possessed man (Mk.1:21-28). As Matthew has it, he had healed the centurion’s servant on the way home. Miracles did not cost Jesus nothing; virtue went out of him with every healing; and beyond a doubt he would be tired. It would be for rest that he came into Peter’s house, and yet no sooner was he in it than there came still another demand on him for help and heating.
Here was no publicity; here there was no crowd to look and to admire and to be astonished. Here there was only a simple cottage and a poor woman tossing with a common fever. And yet in those circumstances Jesus put forth all his power.
Jesus was never too tired to help; the demands of human need never came to him as an intolerable nuisance. Jesus was not one of these people who are at their best in public and at their worst in private. No situation was too humble for him to help. He did not need an admiring audience to be at his best. In a crowd or in a cottage his love and his power were at the disposal of anyone who needed him.
(ii) But this miracle also tells us something about the woman whom Jesus healed. No sooner had he healed her than she busied herself in attending to his needs and to the needs of the other guests. She clearly regarded herself as “saved to serve.” He had healed her; and her one desire was to use her new-found health to be of use and of service to him and to others.
How do we use the gifts of Christ? Once Oscar Wilde wrote what he himself called “the best short story in the world.” W. B. Yeats quotes it in his autobiography in all of what he calls “its terrible beauty.” Yeats quotes it in its original simplicity before it had been decorated and spoiled by the literary devices of its final form;
Christ came from a white plain to a purple city, and, as he passed through the first street, he heard voices overhead, and saw a young man lying drunk upon a window-sill. `Why do you waste your soul in drunkenness?’ he said. The man said, `Lord, I was a leper, and you healed me, what else can I do?’ A little farther through the town he saw a young man following a harlot, and said, `Why do you dissolve your soul in debauchery?’ And the young man answered, `Lord, I was blind and you healed me, what else can I do?’ At last, in the middle of the city, he saw an old man crouching, weeping on the ground, and, when he asked why he wept, the old man answered, `Lord, I was dead, and you raised me into life, what else can I do but weep?'”
That is a terrible parable of how men use the gifts of Christ and the mercy of God. Peter’s wife’s mother used the gift of her health restored to serve Jesus and to serve others. That is the way in which we should use every gift of God.
Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary