And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying 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. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
This text teaches us a few things about Peter. First, we learn Peter had a wife. We know that because he had a mother-in-law. His mother-in-law lived in his house. And Peter’s hometown was Capernaum. Peter’s home appears to have been the base camp for Jesus’ ministry. So Jesus was not unfamiliar to the people of the city.
When Jesus entered Capernaum He healed the servant of a centurion. As He arrived at Peter’s home, He found Peter’s mother-in-law ill. We do not know how serious the illness was. All we know is she was sick and the illness brought on a fever. Regardless of how serious it was, Jesus healed her by only touching her hand. Once healed she arose and served our Lord.
As you might expect word traveled fast. That evening people from Capernaum brought the sick and those oppressed by demons. Matthew made a distinction between healing and exorcism. The two are not the same.
Matthew tells us this was to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah. But Isaiah speaks of the death of Christ. How can Matthew commandeer the passage to apply here? The answer is clear if we consider why Christ came. He came to reconcile all things to Himself. That includes the physical and the spiritual. (Colossians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5). Sin destroys both physical and spiritual. And Christ came to heal both.
You might ask, then why is there still illness in the world. Why is there still sin in the world? Christ’s death and resurrection justified us. That is, those in Christ have their sins forgiven. And we have Christ’s imputed righteousness. We do not have a righteous within ourselves. Our sanctification is incomplete. We still sin. Sin remains in the world until Christ returns in glory. (Revelation 21: 3-5)
In the context of Christ’s total mission, Matthew’s reference to Isaiah is appropriate.
Verse 18 is jarring. There is no transition. What happened? Jesus was in Peter’s home. He was healing people. And all of a sudden He is outside near the sea and a crowd gathers. If we look at the account in Luke and Mark we see something Matthew omits.
In the morning Jesus gets up early. He goes someplace isolated to pray. But they found Him. (Mark 1:35-38; Luke 4:42-43) Adding this from the other writers helps us understand better what happened.
The crowd was about to pigeonhole Jesus. They were going to make Jesus the town physician. There is nothing wrong with physicians. We need them. They provide a valuable service. But when compared to Christ’s mission it was far too low a calling. So Jesus told His disciples to take Him across the sea.
Once across the sea of Galilee, two men approach Jesus. One was a scribe. The other was a disciple. This is a passage with which many Christians struggle. Jesus explains the radical commitment He demands.
We accumulate stuff. We value our stuff. We buy insurance for our stuff. We put our stuff in a safe so no one can take our stuff. We put alarms in our homes so no one will break in and steal our stuff. We spend time maintaining and repairing our stuff. And no matter how much stuff we have we want more stuff. Our stuff is an object of worship. We spend time, wealth, and emotional capital on our stuff. Our stuff rules us.
The prosperity gospel teaches God will bless us with stuff. He may. Or He may not. Christ, through whom and by whom all things were made, (John 1:3) had no possessions on earth. We must be willing to leave our stuff for Christ.
Our devotion and commitment to Christ must be number one in our life. The lesson Christ provides is difficult to hear. A young man’s father has died. The young man wants to follow Christ. But He has obligations he must fulfill first. He needs to bury his father first. Christ says if I am not your first and your only obligation, don’t bother. Christ is not willing to play second chair to anyone or anything for any reason.
Many commentators try to soften this. For example, John Wesley said, “It is not certain that his father was already dead. Perhaps his son desired to stay with him, being very old, till his death.” That miss what Christ is teaching. It lessens the demand on our lives. Christ requires our full commitment.
The fourth commandment is “Honor your father and mother.” Christ did not tell the young man not to care for his father. Rather Christ demanded first place. Not first place after your parents or wife or children.
It is a commitment we may want to make. But we are unsure we can make it.