Gospel of Mark, 9 – A GROUP OF MIRACLES (MARK 1:29-34)
“And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell Him of her: and He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and He suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him.” MARK 1:29-34 (R.V.)
ST. Matthew tells us that on leaving the synagogue they entered into Peter’s house. St. Mark, with his peculiar sources of information, is aware that Andrew shared the house with his brother.
Especial interest attaches to the mention of the mother-in-law of Peter, as proving that Jesus chose a married man to be an apostle, the very apostle from whom the celibate ministry of Rome professes to have received the keys. The evidence does not stand alone. When St. Paul’s apostolic authority was impugned, he insisted that he had the same right to bring with him in his travels a believing wife, which Peter exercised. And Clement of Alexandria tells us that Peter’s wife acted as his coadjutor, ministering to women in their own homes, by which means the gospel of Christ penetrated without scandal the privacy of women’s apartments. Thus the notion of a Zenana mission is by no means modern.
The mother of such a wife is afflicted by fever of a kind which still haunts that district. “And they tell Him of her.” Doubtless there was solicitude and hope in their voices, even if desire did not take the shape of formal prayer. We are just emerging from that early period when belief in His power to heal might still be united with some doubt whether free application might be made to Him. His disciples might still be as unwise as those modern theologians who are so busy studying the miracles as a sign that they forget to think of them as works of love. Any such hesitation was now to be dispelled forever.
It is possible that such is the meaning of the expression, and if so, it has a useful lesson. Sometimes there are temporal gifts which we scarce know whether we should pray for, so complex are our feelings, so entangled our interests with those of others, so obscure and dubious the springs which move our desire. Is it presumptuous to ask? Yet can it be right to keep anything back, in our communion with our Father?
Now there is a curious similarity between the expression “they tell Jesus of her” and that phrase which is only applied to prayer when St. Paul bids us pray for all that is in our hearts. “In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” So shall the great benediction be fulfilled: “The peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts” (Phil. 4:6, 7). All that is unholy shall be purified, all that is unwise subdued, all that is expedient granted.
If this be indeed the force of St. Mark’s phrase, Jesus felt their modest reticence to be a strong appeal, for St. Luke says “they besought Him,” while St. Matthew merely writes that He saw her lying. The “Interpreter of St. Peter” is most likely to have caught the exact shade of anxiety and appeal by which her friends drew His attention, and which was indeed a prayer.
The gentle courtesy of our Lord’s healings cannot be too much studied by those who would know His mind and love Him. Never does He fling a careless blessing as coarse benefactors fling their alms; we shall hereafter see how far He was from leaving fallen bread to be snatched as by a dog, even by one who would have welcomed a boon thus contemptuously given to her; and in the hour of His arrest, when He would heal the ear of a persecutor, His courtesy appeals to those who had laid hold on Him, “Suffer ye thus far.” Thus He went to this woman and took her by the hand and raised her up, laying a cool touch upon her fevered palm, bestowing His strength upon her weakness, healing her as He would fain heal humanity. For at His touch the disease was banished; with His impulse her strength returned.
We do not read that she felt bound thereupon to become an obtrusive public witness to His powers: that was not her function; but in her quiet home she failed not to minister unto Him who had restored her powers. Would that all whose physical powers Jesus renews from sickness, might devote their energies to Him. Would that all for whom He has calmed the fever of earthly passion, might arise and be energetic in His cause.
Think of the wonder, the gladness and gratitude of their humble feast. But if we felt aright the sickness of our souls, and the grace which heals them, equal gratitude would fill our lives as He sups with us and we with Him
Tidings of the two miracles have quickly gone abroad, and as the sun sets, and the restraint of the sabbath is removed, all the city gathers all the sick around His door.
Now here is a curious example of the peril of pressing too eagerly our inferences from the expressions of an evangelist. St. Mark tells us that they brought “all their sick and them that were possessed with devils. And He healed” (not all, but) “many that were sick, and cast out many devils.” How easily we might distinguish between the “all” who came, and the “many” who were healed. Want of faith would explain the difference, and spiritual analogies would explain the difference, and spiritual analogies would be found for those who remained unhealed at the feet of the good Physician. These lessons might be very edifying, but they would be out of place, for St. Matthew tells us that He healed them all.
But who can fail to contrast this universal movement, the urgent quest of bodily health, and the willingness of friends and neighbors to convey their sick to Jesus, with our indifference to the health of the soul, and our neglect to lead others to the Savior. Disease being the cold shadow of sin, its removal was a kind of sacrament, an outward and visible sign that the Healer of souls was nigh. But the chillness of the shadow afflicts us more than the pollution of the substance, and few professing Christians lament a hot temper as sincerely as a fever.
As Jesus drove out the demons, He suffered them not to speak because they knew Him. We cannot believe that His rejection of their impure testimony was prudential only, whatever possibility there may have been of that charge of complicity which was afterwards actually brought. Any help which might have come to Him from the lips of hell was shocking and revolting to our Lord. And this is a lesson for all religious and political partisans who stop short of doing evil themselves, but reject no advantage which the evil deeds of others may bestow. Not so cold and negative is the morality of Jesus. He regards as contamination whatever help fraud, suppressions of truth, injustice, by whomsoever wrought, can yield. He rejects them by an instinct of abhorrence, and not only because shame and dishonor have always befallen the purest cause which stooped to unholy alliances.
Jesus that day showed Himself powerful alike in the congregation, in the home, and in the streets, and over evil spirits and physical disease alike.