I’ve always loved the placement of the story where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. The account is a short one. She has a fever, so Jesus touches her hand. She is healed, rises, and like a good Middle Eastern mom immediately begins to serve her guests. In Matthew, this non-flashy miracle comes directly after Jesus has healed a leper and a paralyzed servant who was suffering terribly. And it’s followed by Jesus casting out demons and healing all the sick brought to him in Capernaum. In Luke and Mark the preceding account is of the showdown with the demonized man in the synagogue. (Matt 8:1-17, Mark 1:21-33, Luke 4:31-41).
In this context, the healing of a fever seems like a small thing. “Big deal, fevers are ho-hum, everyday stuff. Casting out demons and healing those with life-threatening diseases and excruciating pain? Now that’s what really counts.” Yet there it is, a simple healing of a simple illness, placed in all three synoptic gospels, a reminder that Jesus cares about fevers too. Apparently, he does not scoff at requests to heal the little stuff, but even there he delights to show his compassion and power.
Perhaps fevers were more life-threatening in first century Galilee. But still, a qualitative difference remains. The doctors in Capernaum would have felt like they had adequate medicine for fevers. There were treatable by normal means, as it were. Leprosy and demon-possession? Not so much. Peter’s household may have felt some temptation to not ask for healing. After all, shouldn’t Jesus’ power and attention be saved for the big stuff, especially when local remedies existed for things like fevers? Whether they felt this or not, we are not told. We are simply told that they told Jesus about her fever and he healed her.
This is the logic of faith functioning as it should. Jesus can heal bigger and badder things, so therefore let’s be quick to ask him to take care of this fever also. This is true humility, faith like a child. Yet so often we fall into a different kind of logic, where because we know Jesus can heal bigger and badder things, we think he shouldn’t be bothered with our little forms of suffering – if we even put them in the category of suffering at all. I know that I for one am often guilty of taking headache medicine without praying for God to heal. Even today my kids are home sick from school, yet it took me until I wrote this post to actually pray for them. My underlying assumption seems to be that it’s not worth bringing the little stuff to God, that either he or I really can’t be bothered.
This kind of dismissive thinking also seems widespread when it comes to healing trauma. If we are challenged to dig into the hard things we have experienced that may still be profoundly affecting us, many of us are quick to say that our wounds don’t really count. We all know or have heard of others who have suffered to a much greater extent than we have. So we draw arbitrary lines for what warrants attention and healing and what doesn’t. Sexual abuse? Yes, worthy of getting some care. Bullying? No, that’s normal growing up stuff. Genocide or torture? By all means, that qualifies for some counseling. Moving a dozen times while growing up? Well, there must be something wrong with me for needing help with processing something as small as that.
However, remembering that Jesus healed the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law can free us from the comparison-fueled dismissal of our own suffering. He really does care about suffering that we might count as small. We can and should bring all of our cares to him, not only those that we feel qualify for it. He will not scoff at our wounds, just as a good father doesn’t scoff at the tears caused by his three-year-old’s rug burn. That rug burn matters. If we feel that it doesn’t, that’s likely a sign that something is amiss in our own theology of suffering.
We need to remember that all suffering, no matter how normal or small it seems, is a profound departure from the way things were meant to be. It’s all a grievous twisting of creation, from every simple failure of a parent to respond gently to the greatest of atrocities. Every sin and every kind of suffering grieves God, who created the world as “very good” and will one day resurrect it to once again be so. Because even the smallest kinds of suffering are deeply wrong, we can feel free to bring them to him, and to freely ask for healing.
Indeed, when we don’t bring our seemingly small suffering to him, it tends to build up until collectively it has become something large and dangerous, ready to spill out, breaking our bodies’ health or our relationships with others. This death-by-a-thousand-papercuts accumulation of smaller sufferings is sometimes called complex trauma, and it is a very important category to have. No, you are not crazy for experiencing anxiety attacks even though you can’t pinpoint any singular instances of massive trauma in your past. There’s a reason certain symptoms have emerged, and it probably has something to do with all of the “fevers” you’ve never named, grieved, and brought to Jesus. Each one of them mattered, and each brought its own losses with it. Sooner or later, the grief we have submerged will find its way to the surface. When we become aware of it, will we bring it to Jesus for healing? Or will we condemn ourselves for being weak and unable to simply get over it?
No, fevers matter to Jesus. All of our physical, emotional, spiritual suffering is welcome in the practice of the great physician – even the seemingly-small stuff. He will not despise us if we come or send us away. He won’t sigh and help us reluctantly. He’ll take our hand, and sooner or later, help us to rise up, well again and able to serve.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
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