I was reading a book written by a friend of mine when I found myself in it. Just for a couple of paragraphs, I read almost word for word in the pages of his book a story I had shared with him years before. I had gotten into his story. My story was now a part of his.
God has a wonderful way of drawing us into his story, of including us in his purposes in the world. But the ways we get in on God’s Story are often surprising and rarely flattering.
The mother of Simon Peter’s wife is a case in point.
We know next to nothing about the apostle Peter’s mother-in-law from the gospels. But she does make an appearance that gets into God’s story. Here it is:
Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed, burning up with fever. They told Jesus. He went to her, took her hand, and raised her up. No sooner had the fever left than she was up fixing dinner for them (Mark 1:30-31).
Just two easily passed over verses. Of the little we know from them, we have three things we can say about her:
1. She was a mother-in-law.
If there’s any relationship that women generally do not want to be defined by, it’s mother-in-law. The jokes about mother-in-laws are rarely flattering to them. But there she is: in God’s Story because of the man her daughter married. And that’s no small thing.
Her son-in-law, Simon, will make an amazing personal transformation over the course of the next few decades as the Gospels and Acts bear witness to. He will move from being a foot-in-mouth fisherman to an eloquent preacher. He will travel from backwater Galilee to the seat of the Roman empire. He will be the first mentioned in every list of Jesus’ disciples and will be a rock on which God’s church will be built. And I’m guessing his mother-in-law will get in on it all.
Like her, we get into God’s story not because of ourselves, but because of a relationship. Jesus gets us into God’s Story. But it’s not only Jesus who gets us into God’s Story, it’s the people who introduce us to Jesus who get us in.
2. She got sick.
Who wants to be known for getting sick? For lying in bed because of a fever? But without her illness, we would never have had reason to have her story be mentioned. Because of her fever, she gets into God’s Story not by overcoming her weakness on her own, but by being healed by Jesus.
We don’t get to pick which part of our story gets to be the part God uses to advance his purposes. It’s possible that among all of our wonderful strengths and accomplishments, it may be our weaknesses which are the most useful to God and show forth his glory the most.
Besides, when it comes to God, we all start in a position of weakness and he is the one who offers us a hand up so we can stand in his presence.
3. She was hospitable.
When Jesus healed her, Peter’s mother-in-law got busy. In his gospel, Mark has an affinity for the word “immediately.” There’s an urgency to this Jesus story. And Peter’s mother-in-law gets caught up in this immediacy, popping up from her sick bed after Jesus has healed her and starting to fix a meal.
There’s a selfless hospitality to this. As the now formerly sick person, she had all the rights to lounge in bed, letting her daughter do the food preparing, according to cultural norms. But she’ll have none of it. She is the matron of the house and she makes sure that she treats Jesus as a guest, getting food in front of him as quickly as possible.
In a way, she falls into a stereotype. But that’s OK. She’s not limited to food preparation. She’s elevated by it. She willingly and humbly dives into the role of a servant and becomes the host of our Lord.
She gets our attention by not drawing attention to herself, but by giving attention to Jesus. And that is the essence of discipleship.
It may not be flattering. It may not be on the terms we’d prefer. But getting into God’s Story is what gives meaning to our stories, as we are drawn into relationship with him and participate in his great work in the world.