Saturday, February 6, 2021

Raised up for service

For my reflection on this Sunday's readings, I am foregoing a self-pitying post on the reading from Job, tempting as that is. Rather, I am posting an excerpt from my dissertation in which I examined the first paragraph of our Gospel reading- Mark 1:29-31. My reason for doing this is because this passage from Mark has bearing on the diaconate and my blog, after all, is Καθολικός διάκονος.


Sticking with Matthew’s Gospel, we next encounter a deacon word in chapter eight, verse fifteen. This passage finds parallels in Mark 1:31 and Luke 4:39. In keeping with the well-established scholarly consensus that both Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source, Mark 1:31 must be understood as the primary source for this passage. The pericope in which the deacon word appears is Jesus’s healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. In his succinct version of this event, Mark reports that Jesus went from the synagogue in Capernaum to the house of the brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Upon his arrival, Jesus was informed that Simon’s mother-in-law, who is sadly not named, was laid up because she was sick with a fever. To effect the cure, Jesus grasped her by the hand and helped her up. As soon as she stood up, her fever was gone and “she waited on them.” The word translated as “waited on” in all three parallels is διηκόνει (diakonei).1

Healing Peter's mother-in-law, by John Bridges, 19th century

It seems that the appropriate expression of gratitude for the healing Jesus communicates is diakonia, or service. It is also worth noting that in this passage it is a woman who engages in diaconal service. “Now that she stands on her own two feet,” Walter Kasper notes, “she can help others to stand on theirs.”2 It is worth noting at this point that translating διηκόνει as “waited on” has a direct parallel with what is set forth in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which is traditionally seen as the origin of the diaconate as a formal order of ministry in the primitive Jerusalem church.3 As this survey will show in terms of women and diakonia, Peter’s mother-in-law’s service is not an isolated incident.

It is also interesting to note Mark’s use of the verb ἤγειρεν (ēgeiren), “he raised [her] up” in 1:31.4 This verb is also used in certain Matthean passages to refer to Jesus’s resurrection.5 Perhaps this incident can be seen as an anticipation of being “raised up,” particularly with regard to baptism, in which one dies, is buried, and raised with Christ to new life.6 Peter’s mother-in-law is “raised up” and she is “raised up” for service.

1 Novum Testamentum graece, Mark.
2 Walter Kasper, Leadership in the Church, 40.
3 See Acts 6:1-7.
4 Novum Testamentum graece, Mark.
5 See Matthew 17:23 and Matthew 20:19.
6 See Romans 6:4.

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