9 May 2021

An Unlikely Role Model of Discipleship

Speaker:  Rev Dr Oh Boon Leong
Sermon Title: An Unlikely Role Model of Discipleship
Scripture Text: Mark 1:29-31

The Lordship of Christ is seen in His authority & ability to heal.

Simon’s mother-in-law is a role model of discipleship for 2 reasons:

  1. Women as Jesus’ disciples in Mark’s Gospel
  1.  Her act of service

Three lessons:

  1. Come to Jesus the Healer
  1. Commit to living well
  1. Service is discipleship


Reflection Questions:

  1. In the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, what is Mark saying about the Good News of Jesus Christ?
  2. From the example of Simon’s mother-in-law, what attitudes are we to imbibe when we serve one another?
Scripture: Mark 1:29-31 (ESV)

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.


We’re familiar with the expression “Something got lost in translation.” It refers to word or words that have lost its meaning or significance when it gets translated from the original language to a foreign language.

Something got lost in translation. The same is true of Jesus. Everyone loves it when Jesus shows up. The sick are cured. Demons are cast out. Mother-in-laws get healed. And everyone loves it.

But did they know who Jesus was?

That’s why Jesus asked the disciples … “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27).

What was true in Capernaum is true today. Not every Jesus is the real Jesus.

There’s the Political Jesus, the Counselor Jesus, the Starbucks Jesus, the Peace-Loving Jesus, the Guru Jesus.

Then there’s the Jesus, according to the Gospel of Mark. We’re introduced to him right at the beginning … v. 1 – of Mark 1.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah.

Jesus is the Son of the living God

Not just another Counselor, a Problem-solver, a Peace-maker, or a Spiritual guide.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Messiah refers to God’s anointed one, the Son of David, the King. He comes from the royal line of David. He establishes the rule of God. His reign, his kingship is fleshed over & over again in Mark.

He’s the Lord over lives. He calls out to Simon & Andrew, James & John, and they followed him. No question, no “ifs” or “buts.”

He’s the Lord over sickness, that’s why he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, enables the lame to walk.

He’s the Lord over the spirit world, even demons obey him. He’s the Lord over the physical world, that’s why he stills the raging sea. He’s the Lord over death, that’s why he could raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is Lord!

This is the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s Good News, not good advice. It’s not an advice on how to be a “better” you. It’s not about living an improved life, an upgraded version 9.0. It’s God coming into your world, taking over our lives, so that we’re set free.

When Jesus heals the paralytic, he says to him … “Your sins are forgiven.” When sins are forgiven, we can begin a new life. That’s the Good News!

Christianity is unlike any other religion, because Jesus is unlike any other person. Mark opens our eyes to the real Jesus. He is not a figment of our own imagining. He’s not the projection of our own desires. He is the Lord. He’s more loving, more merciful, more holy, more wonderfully terrifying than we could ever imagine.

The Lordship of Christ is seen – in our text, and through an individual. She is a role model for us today. The Gospel of Mark is fascinating in that it does not teach us discipleship. Mark does not teach the Lordship of Christ through propositional truth … or a set of lectures. He shows us! He shows what discipleship looks like. And he does it through his characters. So I invite you to follow Jesus to the home of Simon Peter.

Probably the shortest account of healing in the Gospels. She’s known as Simon’s mother-in-law, appropriate as we remember this day, mothers, grandmothers and yes! even mother-in-laws!

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Simon’s mother-in-law is the 1st woman mentioned in Mark’s Gospel. Notice her passive role in this story. She’s at the background, not foreground. Her name was not even mentioned, as if to say she was not significant. or significant only in her relation to Simon as his mother-in-law. She did not speak for herself. Silence … Everything was done for her by the men. The men spoke to Jesus – on her behalf.

There was no prayer request. She did not speak to Jesus, she did not even asked to be healed. To top it all, we hear nothing of her confession, nor her words of faith. Silence …

But whereupon being healed, she began to serve the men! “Straight from the sickbed to the cook stove” was how one preacher puts it.

It is tempting to read the story from an androcentric view, or from a male-dominated … chauvinistic perspective and concluding that the place of women was to serve the men.

Before we reach that conclusion, I want to suggest another reading for your consideration, which I believe is Mark’s intent. I believe, to the contrary, Simon’s mother-in-law is a model of discipleship. She is a great exemplar of faith, a role model, even although an unlikely one. She exemplifies for the disciples of Jesus, to the men that day, in that home, what it means to follow the Lord. She exemplifies for us today, the Kingship or the Lordship of Christ. She exhibits a model of faith & service.

Here are a couple of reasons from Mark. First, women as disciples in Mark’s Gospel. Tracking through the Gospel, a perceptive reader will notice that Mark has a soft spot for women. Every woman who comes into contact with Jesus is a person of faith, a heroine. These were the faith-filled, faithful followers of Jesus; a contrast to men who talk way too much and do too little and who often fumble, and stumble along in the faith.

E.g. Mark 14, a silent, unnamed woman enters the house of Simon the Leper. Never speaking a word, she breaks open a jar of very expensive ointment of nard. And she anoints Jesus on his head. Anointing is means the anointing the King, the Messiah. Her anointing is a silent confession.

In Mark 15, is a reversal for the women in Mark. The male disciples are now totally absent from the stage, because of the scandal of the cross. But it’s the women who stayed faithful. This time, we hear their names … Mary & Mary Magdalene. They stay close to the body of Jesus, while Peter & the others remain at a distance.

Mark 16:1-8: Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They’ve come to honor the One whom the world has dishonored. They enter the tomb, as if to say, they are now – the “insiders.” As one commentator says, “Within the Marcan story, only the women follow Jesus to the end.”

So often women have been silenced in history and in tradition. The 1st century put women just above the animals. Women often found themselves near the bottom of the social ladder. Her presence didn’t matter. Her opinion didn’t matter. She didn’t matter.

The Jewish Talmud says, it is better for the Torah to be burned that to be taught to women. They were not allowed to eat in the same room with the men … nor worship with them in the inner courts of the Temple.

This not the view of Mark, nor of Jesus. Though they live in the margins of the Roman world, they are welcomed in God’s kingdom. They have much to teach us today. In the world of Mark, the silent women are really worth watching … and listening!

There’s a 2nd reason why I think Simon’s mother-in-law is an exemplar of faith & discipleship. But she doesn’t confess her faith in Jesus – you say. She does not shout … “Alleluia!” … “Thank you, Jesus” … “Praise the Lord!” She is silent. Where is her faith? It’s in her action. As you observe the women in Mark, watch their actions, not their words; for their words are few, if any! It’s the actions that confess the faith!

When Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, the text says she began to serve them. This is not a throw-away line. “To serve” is an important theological word in Mark’s Gospel. The verb is where we get “Diaconate” or “Deacon”, someone who serves. It is used 5 times in the Gospel. And in Mark, its Jesus & the women who serve!

“Serving” is a posture of our Lord and of a true disciple of Christ. In 1:13, Jesus is in the wilderness and the angels serve him. In 2 other passages, it’s the women in Galilee – who serve Jesus. It’s also found in 10:45. James & John ask the Lord for seats of honor in his kingdom. James & John want to be served. But Jesus replied, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” But it’s the male disciples who were unable to accept such a role. It challenges their secular belief that the highest value is honor. They want to be seen, to be heard rather than to serve. But in Mark, it’s Jesus & the women who give us a model of true discipleship. And Simon’s mother-in-law, upon being healed, served.

Who is a disciple of Christ? Who is his follower? Not those who can articulate their faith, but those who act upon their faith. Mark says, faithful actions, not mere correct words, are the true marks of a disciple. And the very 1st example is Simon’s mother-in-law, who shows her faith, not by her lips, but in her service unto Jesus & others.

I like to suggest 3 applications.

  1. Come to Jesus the Healer

Simon’s mother-in-law was probably too sick in bed, too weak to even speak. The parallel account in Luke 4 describes her fever as a “great fever.” Lying in bed, suffering in silence, it’s almost as if she has come to accept the inevitability of sickness. Almost everyone here knows of someone who’s unwell, perhaps even severe. We pray because we know Jesus can heal. And we also know that healing is an act of divine grace. God does not heal the deserving nor the good. He heals because he’s the Lord of grace & mercy. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther said, “Thou art a gracious God, thou doest good also to them who deserve it not.” During this pandemic, we pray for those most affected by it, the sick & their families and the medical workers. We pray for God’s protection & deliverance.

The crisis also reminds us how fragile human life can be. The most powerful nation, the biggest nation on earth can be brought to her knees by the smallest microbe. But as our text today says God is sovereign. Our hope & salvation is in him alone. Jesus is the Lord and the ultimate Healer.

There’s another concern. Social stigma & discrimination. Unfortunately, certain illnesses continue to have stigma attached to them, e.g. mental health concerns. People avoid them. Do we welcome them? Jesus does not exclude the sick. He crosses several barriers to reach the woman, barriers of gender & ritual purity. Now I’m not suggesting we ignore the contagion, or the danger of transmission. But as Jesus did not exclude the sick. So we do not discriminate those who need our prayers, our understanding and our support.

  1. Commit to Living Well

Jesus does more than healing. He raises us to new life. V. 31 saysJesus lifted her up, literally, “to raise”, bringing her back to life. It is used in Mark 2:9-12, where at the command of Jesus, the paralytic man “rose” and took his mat & walked. Simon’s mother-in-law was raised to life, made whole, restored!

Sometimes I hear of people, who, when given a 2nd shot at life, often spur them on to live well, to live better, to live more purposefully. There was a story of a cancer patient who was given a prognosis of only 10-months to live. After a series of treatments, he beat the odds and is given a new lease of life. He realizes how little time he has, and how precious it is. In an interview, he says“My wife Gail & I discussed … “what’s next?”

Why not make the best of the time that’s left. Well in his 60s, he went back to school, to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming an architect. What is your dream? What’s in your heart? Don’t delay. Do it. God’s word to you is “Arise!” Live again! … today! … this year!

  • Service is discipleship

The concept of service is hard for many of us, especially among the educated, the  professional and those in management. Perhaps that’s why the example of Simon’s mother-in-law has been historically marginalized. Yet in Mark’s Gospel, serving is a mark of faith and a badge of discipleship.

For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward (Mark 9:41). Serving water, serving at the table are the kinds of activities disciples will be rewarded, as were many of the women who provided for the needs of Jesus when he was in Galilee.

Henri Nouwen: “I feel a deep resistance against this way. Somehow I have come to think about eating, drinking, washing, and dressing as so many necessary preconditions for reading, speaking, teaching, or writing. Somehow the pure word was the real thing for me. Time spent with “material” things was necessary but needed to be kept to a minimum. But at L’Arche, that is where all the attention goes. At L’Arche the body is the place where the word is met. It is in relationship to the wounded body of the handicapped person that I must learn to discover God.

This is very hard for me. I still find a long meal in the middle of the day a waste of time. I still think that I have more important things to do than to set the table, eat slowly, wash the dishes, and set the table again. I think, “Surely we must eat, but the work which comes after is what counts.” But L’Arche cannot be endured with this mind set.

I wonder when and how I will learn to fully live the Incarnation. I suppose that only the handicapped people themselves will be able to show me the way. I must trust that God will send me the teachers I need” (Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak)

As a church, our focus often is on content, opportunities, direction, objectives, building,  speaking & leading. But like Simon’s mother-in-law, let’s not lose sight of needs, helping, providing, nourishing, restoring and the care of others.