The winter holiday season is fast-approaching. As women, we may now feel the pressure of performance – the cooking, the decorating, the planning, the gift-giving, the extension of ourselves through hospitality to others. It’s on and we know it. We know because most of us have precedence – we have put the energy into serving our family and our friends during the Thanksgiving thru Christmas seasons more than once. We take a deep breath and we get to it. We do it out of love and maybe obligation. ” If we don’t serve,” we say to ourselves, will it get done? Probably not! This is our assignment and we take it seriously.
But, the real truth of the matter is this: Hospitality (and loving service) requires a willingness to give, often without the expectation of reciprocity. When we serve, we give of ourselves and of our resources because of our love for the “guest.” Service and hospitality extended in love, are one in the same.
Definition: Hospitality – Derives from the root word in Latin – Hospitalitem, meaning “friendliness and kindness to guests and strangers.”
1 Peter 4: 8-10: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’ grace in its various forms.”
As in many New Testament scriptures, this is a model for Christian hospitality.
And Now, THE WORD from our Sponsor…………………………………………………………
MATTHEW 8: 14-15
“Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And, she arose and served them.”
MARK 1: 29-34
“Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them.
LUKE 4: 38-39
“Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her. So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. And immediately, she arose and served them.
It is AMAZING that so much theology can be contained in only just a few sentences! The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law makes its appearance in all of the synoptic accounts. While each gospel emphasizes several details missing from the other, there are primary commonalities that become important in this woman’s story:
In Mark (the oldest of the Gospel traditions) – Simon, Andrew, James & John; along with Jesus, leave the synagogue and go to Peter’s house where his mother-in-law lay with fever. Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. She then serves the 5 of them.
In Matthew (the second gospel written) – Matthew adds the touch of Jesus to the woman’s hand. Jesus comes to the house of the woman alone.
In Luke (the third gospel written) – The fever is described as “high,” and they made their request of Jesus. Jesus stands over the woman, rebukes the fever and immediately she rises to serve them.
For our study, we will first consider the narrative of Matthew because of the deletion of the disciples. Matthew is the only account where Jesus comes solo. In fact, this is the ONLY narrative in the entire gospel corpus where Jesus travels by Himself to heal alone . (Dale Allison – “Matthew: Shorter Commentary”; Edward Schweizer – “The Good News According to Matthew.” Why should this detail matter to us? There are several important reasons. In Matthew’s story Jesus, the Messiah “senses” the woman’s infirmity without the disciples’ prompting. Jesus enters the dominion of this house and TOUCHES a woman who is deemed unclean by first century rabbinic teaching. As Jesus enters Peter’s home, He demonstrates a radical hospitality that disregards concern for the politics of purity and replaces compassionate concern for a sick, afflicted widow. Jesus breaks with the accepted rabbinic boundaries (i.e., the mention of the synagogue) to establish justice, love, and hospitality.
This is the Messiah who does not need the disciples to tell Him of the woman’s plight. He knows all about the widow’s pain and suffering. In Matthew’s story, Jesus stands in the authority and power of the Old Testament prophets. Matthew underscores the divinity and sovereignty of Jesus. As Dale Allison writes in his most excellent commentary of Matthew: “Temple and synagogue no longer had a monopoly on holy space. The presence of Jesus made space sacred and during his earthly ministry he choose to bless houses with his presence.” When Jesus enters the modest hut of a feverish woman deemed unclean by tradition, the house becomes an acceptable place of worship.
It is a fact that Peter’s house becomes one of the first church houses in Christian tradition. Archaeologists have excavated a building in Capernaum that was originally a first century house and then was later converted to a meeting place for Christians in the late 1st century. Many scholars believe this was the house in which Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Christians still travel from all of the world to stand in the house and see where early Christians worship. Matthew’s story underscores the reality that Christian worship may have begun in the household of a widow.
The new ideal of messianic sanctity found in this story became a key doctrinal difference between Judaism and Christianity. As we know, early Christians (who were Jews) moved from the Temple/synagogue to house churches. Instead of the infirmed seeking healing and hospitality there, (in the Temple) as the sacred place of deliverance, anywhere two or three gathered in the name of Jesus became a place of healing and deliverance. This ideal grew as a prominent difference in Christianity; whereby, instead of going to the Temple, the TEMPLE comes to them (us). Capricious grace becomes the order of the day. Grace is called down from heaven, even when one could not pray for it themselves. This is the theology of Matthew in this story – Capricious grace! Apostle Paul says it best, as he explains: “In the same way, the Spirit help us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
In the narrative of Luke, the healing of Peter’s mother-in law begins the tradition of Luke and his concern for women and the poor. As we know, Luke writes more about women and their relationship with Jesus than any of the other New Testament evangelists. In his story, Peter’s mother-in-law is the first woman to be healed by Jesus. As important, her healing occurs BEFORE Jesus calls his first disciples. Luke, as in all of the narratives, emphasizes the healed woman serves Jesus and the others immediately after she is healed. In this way, Peter’s mother-in-law, who is unnamed in her own story, becomes the FIRST person to serve Jesus. Should she be considered as Jesus’ first disciple – a woman?
An essential part of the model of hospitality, what we experience in all of the narratives is the component of compassion. Jesus shows compassion for the widow and the healed widow shows compassion for Jesus. Compassion is defined from the Latin word “cum,” meaning “with passio” or “suffering with.” The Hebrew word for compassion (racham) translates as “womb,” or even “uterus.”
This is a powerful, feminine analogy because the womb, as we know, will give EVERYTHING it has to protect the “guest.” There is no greater protection than the womb. It is insular, and a all-encompassing eco-system which is created to nurture, as the host. This is also the ethic of the cross – the willingness to give of one’s self for another without the expectation of reciprocity.
We also see this in the narrative of Peter’s mother-in-law. Compassion is extended by Jesus and with great love and gratitude, the healed woman, without hesitation, serves Jesus and her guests. In this story, we learn one of the final goals of love is hospitality. Hospitality is rooted in compassion, kindness, and unconditional agape.
As the great Catholic theologian, Hans Kung writes: “The Kingdom of God is creation healed.” We see in the text, Jesus redeems humanity through the power of divine hospitality. Yet, the woman also heals Jesus, by serving Him through table fellowship. As women understand, food is love!
In Mark’s story, as well as Matthew, the Greek word “egeiro,” is used. This word means “raised up,” as in the English term, resurrection. The widow is not just healed of fever (possibly malaria); but, in a sense, she is recreated. Matthew and Mark are possibly foreshadowing Jesus’ resurrection. Though the woman is a widow, Jesus is completely unconcerned for the worthiness of the guest. All that matters to Jesus is the infirmed are healed and made whole.
But, what of the widow’s response. Realistically, do we wonder how and why she was able to serve after a near death experience. Can you imagine rising from your sickbed, cooking a meal, and acting as a hostess immediately after a healing? In case there is hesitation on our part, the rhetorical answer from all of the evangelists is a resounding, “YES!” This is the cost of discipleship and the healed woman demonstrates to her audience the nature of the cost. It is of great import that the healed widow does not simply walk away free. She gives of herself in service to Jesus with gratitude and love. She shows us that following Jesus will costs us something. While the widow receives grace which flows freely from Jesus, her model of discipleship demands service, in love, and belies what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
Bonhoeffer’s definition of “cheap grace” – Cheap grace is grace that costs us nothing and is “without discipleship, without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
This woman asks us the powerful question, through her extended hospitality towards Jesus (and the others): “What have you done for Jesus lately?” Will we simply walk away, in cheap grace, taking Jesus’ deliverance, love, healing for granted, or will we model after the widow and give ourselves in service to our Lord and Savior?
Only we can answer this convicting question.
QUESTIONS FOR OUR DISCUSSION AND CONSIDERATION:
Bonhoeffer’s observations of “cheap grace,” were written decades ago. How (or is) the church indicted with his idea of “cheap grace?”
Do you have any personal examples of the type of service the woman in our story provides? How was she able to do what she did?
How are you prepared to serve Jesus better? What are some of the things we can do to demonstrate this to ourselves and to others? How can we serve in and outside of the Church?
” And you must love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important, Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12: 30-31
“The focus of entertaining is impressing others; the focus of hospitality is serving others.” Tim Chester
“Hospitality is not about inviting people into our perfect homes. It is all about inviting people into our imperfect hearts.” – Unknown.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for in doing so some have entertained angels without knowing.” – Hebrews 13:2
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Beloved, teach us to open our shuttered hearts
and our portioned and boarded up spirits
with bold, generous, and courageous hospitality.
Around the table of wonder, meet us with abundance, Oh God,
showing us how to weave together community with steadfast love.
When we are cast out and wandering,
may we find welcome and compassion,
into the ways of healing, into the ways of peace.
(excerpted from a prayer by Reverend Naomi King)