(much much MUCH credit to my pastor and friend, Jill McCrory)
In Mark, the first miracle Jesus performs is an exorcism (Mk 1:21-28). It’s a super unsettling scene; the demon, invading the synagogue where Jesus is preaching, speaks through the possessed man and asks “What have you to do with ::us::?” (“Us” in this case being “demons.”)
And this is a theme throughout Mark — the first to recognize Jesus for who he is are not the people in the synagogue, or even the disciples, it’s the demons.
(I do not believe in demons, btw. But if you have a demon story of course I want to hear it.)
The second miracle Jesus performs in Mark is healing Peter’s mother-in-law. And that’s really the point of this post, this healing. I just open with the demon thing because Mark’s gospel is haunted by demons throughout and I’m fascinated by that. Again, if you have a demon story you MUST share it with me.
The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is at Mk 1:29-31. Depending on your edition–NIV, NRSV, KJV, The Message–you’ll have a different translated verb.
NIV: “she began to wait on them”
NRSV: “she began to serve them”
KJV: “she ministered unto them”
Mess: “she was up fixing dinner for them.”
In my study Bible — an NIV with lines in the margins for note-taking — I wrote, “Of course she did,” because I read “serve” in the same sense that The Message Bible presents it and I’m still bitter about the treatment of Martha in the Book of Luke. #JUSTICEFORMARTHA
But if we look at the Greek — which is the language Mark is written in — the verb used is διάκονος, which is where we get the word “deacon.” And this can change the entire sense of what this passage might mean, and what role Peter’s mother-in-law had in Jesus’s ministry.
If we take off our Patriarchy Lenses and just look at the words, it just might could be that Peter’s mother-in-law isn’t “fixing dinner for them” or “serving” them. The King James version might get us closer to what is really happening: she ministers to them — as a deacon.
If we let ourselves read this passage in this light, Peter’s mother-in-law becomes another disciple of Jesus — becomes someone whose service isn’t domestic, but spiritual.
Later, in the New Testament, (but ironically much earlier, chronologically; Paul’s writings are the earliest writings in the New Testament, even though they come after the Gospels and Acts) in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we read of another deacon, a woman named Phoebe. (Rom 16:1-2)
The same Greek is used–διάκονος. Here it is in those same 4 editions.
NIV/NRSV: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon”
KJV: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church”
Mess: “Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe…a key representative”
The Greek in Romans is translated as an active member of the church — not a woman who serves dinner. And the Greek in Mark is often translated as a hostess, not a woman who can also preach the good news.
I prefer the Greek of Paul. Peter’s mother-in-law is an active disciple of Jesus. Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”