Commentary on Luke 4:38-44
After the scene in the synagogue where Jesus healed a man possessed by an evil spirit, he goes straight to Peter’s house. It was a sabbath day so Jesus could not move around or do any major activity. He seems to have used this house as his base when in Capernaum and that part of Galilee. (Jesus had “nowhere to lay his head”, no dwelling of his own, but it seems clear that he was not a streetsleeper. There were always people ready to offer him hospitality – a custom of the Middle East and a model for Christians of every age and place.)
Peter’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a fever and the disciples begged Jesus to do something for her. (We might remember that the first pope was married.) Jesus stood over her and, with a word, cured her. Immediately she got up and began to serve Jesus and his group.
There is a lesson here. Health and healing are not just for the individual. Her healing immediately restored her to the community and the duty of serving that community. (And not just because she was a woman! If it had been the father-in-law, the same would apply.) As long as we are in health our energies are meant to be directed to the building up of the community and not simply for our personal enjoyment.
“Now when the sun was setting” – we need to remember it was a sabbath. The sabbath went from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday (so Jesus could not be properly buried on the Friday evening when he died). According to the traditions, Jews could not travel more than two-thirds of a mile or carry any load. Only after sunset could the sick be brought to Jesus.
As soon as the sabbath was over, large numbers brought their sick to him. He “laid his hands on every one of them” and healed them all. As Jesus had announced in the synagogue at Nazareth, the Kingdom of God had arrived and was entering the lives of people, bringing them health and wholeness.
Many were also liberated from the power of evil spirits. These spirits shouted at Jesus “You are the Son of God”. As we mentioned earlier, by using Jesus’ title they hoped to exert control over him. It did not work, of course. Whether these were actual cases of possession or were psychological or moral disorders which made people behave in abnormal ways and perhaps ways harmful to themselves and others is not clear. But clearly the presence of the Kingdom is being felt.
At daybreak – Jesus had been working the whole night for the people – he went off into a quiet place. The desert is the place where God is to be found and very likely, as Mark tells us, Jesus went there to pray and to be alone. The people, who had seen what he did for them, wanted him to stay with them. Their attitude is in marked contrast to the people of Nazareth.
But he could and would not. “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; that is why I have been sent.” And so we are told that he was now preaching in the synagogues of Judea – in the south of the country, although the term may simply refer to the whole of Jewish territory.
No place could have a monopoly on his attentions. We need to attach ourselves to Jesus and keep close to him but we cannot cling to him in a way that prevents others from experiencing his healing touch.
On the contrary, it is our task as his disciples to see that as many as possible come to know and experience his love, his compassion and his healing.