“And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, He saw his mother-in-law laying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve Him. That evening they brought to Him many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.”—Matthew 8:14-16
“The Island”—there is no better name for the Formica-topped structure of drawers and cabinets set in middle of our kitchen. All sorts of flotsam and jetsam seem to ride the swirling household tide until they wash ashore here. Scissors, glue containers, and scotch tape drift by, lingering for days only to vanish in some mysterious undertow just when an inhabitant finds that he or she urgently needs to cut or assemble something. It’s a never-ending flow of detritus. Bibles and fragments of forgotten Sunday school projects. Half-filled cups of water. Damp dish towels. Tissues of several varieties: plain, fragrant, and well-used. Any trinkets, action figure accoutrements, or crumbs arbitrarily judged to be choking hazards and duly placed out of reach of the one-year-old who scours the floor like a hungry sucker fish prowling the seabed. There are other “islands” of comparable tidiness in the archipelago I call home. For purposes of illustration, the one in the kitchen will do.
I should make clear that I am not Robinson Crusoe. In terms of the local population capable of mess-making, we are talking roughly the size of the S.S. Minnow’s crew plus passengers. With this many castaways riding the currents back and forth to the fridge, the table, or the telephone, the flotsam and jetsam accumulates on the Island rather rapidly. As you might imagine, the problem lies in the fact that not many inhabitants are interested in combing the beach and claiming responsibility for the treasures they’re sure to discover. To make matters worse, I can stand next to the Island, point to a specific piece of colored debris, and ask a room of five or six girls adequately proficient in English, “Hey, whose tae-kwon-do belt is this?” . . . and, in response, hear exactly what I would hear were I to put a conch to my ear. Even the four-year-old senses that, if no one responds, the inquisitor has no choice but to: (1) go through the time-consuming process of asking five or six people individually; (2) remove the object from the Island himself; or (3) assume it belongs to the cat and throw it in the litter box. All three involve more work for me and less work for them.
The deeper problem, of course, is that the people of the archipelago aren’t enthusiastic about serving. They are routinely in the business of imposing burdens on their fellow castaways rather than carrying them for each other.
My wife and I have tried to nudge our kids toward embracing God’s call to serve. As the case of the Island suggests, it has been exasperating because selflessly serving others doesn’t come naturally for anyone. In Matthew’s gospel, a story that’s not really the story provides a useful object lesson. Jesus heals Peter’s bedridden, fever-struck mother-in-law. Immediately, “she rose and began to serve Him.” This passage reminds us that Jesus saves for a reason. He loves us, of course. But He also rescues us because we each have a role to play in the coming of His kingdom. Even accounting for the stereotypes about mothers-in-law, can we picture Peter’s actually complaining about having to leave her bed to prepare a meal for the One to whom she owed her life? Would she set about this chore grudgingly or with unspeakable joy?
No doubt, Peter’s mother-in-law considered her redeemed life to be reward enough. But there was more. Serving Him, she was then treated to the parade of healings that occurred on her very doorstep as the broken came to Jesus for restoration. As she wiped her brow and beheld this feast of miracles, could she be anything but grateful and delighted at the staggering thought that He had come to her?
We are saved to serve. Our rest comes later.