Mark has established Jesus as the teacher with authority and gives us an example of a typical day’s activity, which reflects the Jewish hope that the Messianic age would eliminate both Satan and disease. Jesus touches Peter’s sick mother-in-law and helps her up: physical touching is often a feature in healing stories. This incident takes place immediately after Jesus’ encounter with the evil spirit in the possessed man and is the first of eight healing works of Jesus, four of which concern women. Mark then tells us that in the evening, Jesus healed a great number of sick people who had been brought to him. Illness was often associated with demonic possession, and we find that after such healings Jesus often commands silence about what he has done: Mark is careful that his readers should not regard miracles (or “works of power”) as proof of Jesus’ divine status.
The next day, Jesus goes off early by himself to “a lonely place”, literally “a desert place”, suggesting a spot where the person could be in close contact with God. Peter and the others track him down and tell him that “everybody is looking for you”. Mark often uses what we would probably consider exaggeration to express the universal element of the Gospel. A strong theme in Mark’s account is that people of all sorts misunderstand Jesus: this negative note is sounded here and will develop throughout Jesus’ ministry. Capernaum serves as the base from which his preaching mission will spread out to embrace the whole of Galilee .
One of the unfortunate characteristics of biblical narrative is that so many of the women who feature in the stories remain anonymous. In our Gospel reading today, for example, the four male disciple companions of Jesus are identified by name, but we have no such complementary detail about Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark tells us that when she rose from her sickbed, she began “to wait on them”: this is the verb usually translated as “to serve”, and the only human beings who are mentioned as “serving” in the Gospel tradition are women. Jesus uses the term in his teaching on leadership, that among the disciples the leader is one who “serves”, not one who rules or dominates. Another point we might notice is that the verb in question comes from the same root as the noun which gives us the English word “deacon”.
We later find that the women are the link witness element in the crucial events of Jesus’ death, burial and the events at the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning, after the male disciples had abandoned him in Gethsemane.
In any discussion about the ministry of women in the Church, we might take the New Testament evidence into account, especially Paul’s remark that through baptism, there is now “no longer male nor female” in Christ (Gal 3:28). We also should distinguish those customs which belong to historical and cultural systems or prejudice and which have little to do with the revealed word of God.
- The only other subjects who “serve” in the Gospel story (apart from women) are angels.
- Peter, James and John are shown as being Jesus’ companions at certain privileged and private occasions, such as the transfiguration and Gethsemane.
- Illness in the Bible is seen as belonging to the realm opposed to God: total well-being is expressed by the word shalom, usually translated as “peace”.
Observe the waiters in a restaurant or café as you sit there or pass by; notice who prepares meals for the others in your home.
How does their example reflect the idea of leadership in the Church and your parish?
Your leader must be as one who serves. (see Luke 22:26)