As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:29-39)
Both Matthew and Luke have drawn on these texts from Mark – see Matthew. 8:14–17, Luke 4:38–41 for the healings at Simon’s house and Matthew 4:23–25, Luke 4:42–44 for the further preaching in Galilee.
After Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, “she began to serve them”. The Greek verb used here is diakonein. It would be a serious mistake to interpret this culturally, as if this indicated that her role – and therefore the role of women – is to do domestic chores and “wait on” on the males in the community. Mark uses the same word of the angels “waiting on” Jesus in his temptation in the desert – see Mark 1:13. It is also the same
word used in Mark 10:45 where Jesus says the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve. Mark is here saying, in effect, that Jesus’ mother-in-law, having been touched by Jesus, manifests a central characteristic of the true disciples – she “waits on” them.
One author describes the servant role in the person and teaching of Jesus: “The word for servant is diakonos, the ordinary Greek word for waiting tables (Luke 17:8; John 12:2; Acts 6:2). It refers to personal devotion
in service as opposed to service as a slave or for hire or as a priest, for example. The Greek world generally considered service demeaning and undignified; ‘How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?’ (Plato, Gorgias 491e) expressed the basic Greek attitude toward service and servants. In Jesus’ teaching, to the contrary, the concept of service grows out of his concept of love for one’s neighbor. Jesus’
selfless service of others fills the concept of servant with entirely new content; the posture of the servant is a visible manifestation of the reality of God’s love. Greatness in God’s economy is not reserved for the gifted and privileged; rather, it presents itself to every believer in the common and simple tasks of serving others. Indeed, the more common and humble the task, the greater the deed, for humility is the essence of him who said, “‘For I am among you as one who serves'” (Luke 22:27). Service to others is the primary way in which believers imitate and fulfil the mission of Jesus (10:43–45).” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark,
W B Eerdmans, 2002, 286-287).
One of the most stark characteristics of the demonic is its self-centredness. Adrian van Kaam puts it simply and well: “Self-centredness, the refusal to be human and not God, is the core of the demonic in human nature.” (Adrain van Kaam, The Demon and the Dove, Duquesne University Press, 1967, 46-47.)
By way of contrast, the most remarkable characteristic of Jesus is his capacity to be for others. His focus is not on himself. He is not interested in self-aggrandisement, the adulation of others, acquiring wealth or anything that would in any way take his attention – and ours – off the Kingdom of God.
There is a crucial fact we must not miss here however: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” This is not about “saying prayers”. It is rather about the grounding of Jesus’ life. His identity – like ours – is found in God. He draws his identity, not from what he does nor from what people think nor from any role assigned by a human system. Jesus is secure in the knowledge that he is sent by the Father and that he is loved by the Father.
In him, the servant role emerges from his identity as one who knows he is loved infinitely and that his very being here is about being the sacrament of that love. The being there for others is part and parcel of his very identity which is born of love.
Terrible damage has been done to people by separating these facts. We can generate a serious loss of self-esteem and even self-hatred by promoting the servant ideal disconnected from the experience of love. Love, if it is genuine, begets the desire to serve others.
Do whatever you can to become aware – in your guts – that you are loved infinitely, and the servant role will simply emerge with that awareness.