During Lent we are looking at New Testament women and men who had a ‘burning bush’ moment. A time when they realized “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Unlike Moses in the Exodus 3 story, they do not encounter a real ‘bush [that] was on fire [but] it did not burn up’. Instead, their encounter with Jesus transformed them, just like Moses was transformed by his meeting with God at the burning bush on Horeb.
Let’s meet Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She has 3 verses in Mark and 2 in Matthew that tell the same story:
“As soon as Jesus and His companions had left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and they promptly told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:29-31)
“When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, He saw Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve them.” (Matthew 8:14-15)
She is sick, Jesus touches, or takes, her hand and she is healed. She starts making dinner. Seems very straightforward and simple. How can this be a burning bush moment?
Simon’s mother-in-law is ill and then she is well. Her life is transformed. Rather than being an invalid, she is able to rise immediately and be a good hostess. We don’t know how long she had been ill, but she must have been very sick to remain in her bed when guests arrive. Nearly every woman I know would drag herself out of bed to welcome company, unless she was deathly ill. For a First Century Jewish woman this would be even more important. It was part of the code of hospitality handed down for generations from the time the Hebrew people were nomadic shepherds. The first responsibility of any household is to welcome the stranger and the guest.
In the painting of Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter's Wife by John Bridges, we see Jesus reaching out to the sick woman. By taking her hand, Jesus crosses a ritual boundary. She is a woman, she is a stranger to him, she is sick (and therefore ‘unclean’), yet he touches her. In that touch she experiences the ‘burning bush moment’. Jesus acknowledges her humanity and in his touch; she receives healing as well as affirmation. Jesus offers her love and she has a new heart for service.
‘She began to serve them’, or ‘minister to them’ says the Gospel record. The Greek word is diakoneó, meaning to serve or minister. There are many other places where the same word is used. One is Matthew 4:11 where we hear, after Jesus temptation in the wilderness, the ‘angels came and ministered to him’. It is also the word in Mark 10:45 when Jesus says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t just get up and make supper, she offered ministry. In her healing, her burning bush encounter with God, she received empowerment to minister to Jesus and his disciples. In joyful offering, she gives of herself as she provides a meal. Unlike Martha of Bethany’s initial response, she did not find the task onerous because she was serving the Lord.
Sometimes work or serving or ‘doing one more thing’ can seem like just too much. We want to crawl into bed and pull up the covers. If and when we are able to change our perspective and see the ‘burning bush’ of Christ in those we are working with and for, the task becomes ministry. We are no longer the slave to our job description, we are diakoneó, ministering and serving God in our work or conversation. We can look for God in everything we do.
As Browning states, "only those who see [the burning bush], take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries." What might help you see the face of Jesus in something that is difficult and doesn't feel like ministry? Look for the burning bush moments every day.
When have you felt that you were offering ministry to God when serving someone else, or just doing your job?