Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

32. Healing at Peter’s Home (Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41)*

Getting away from the excited crowd in the synagogue, Jesus walked, along with his four fisher disciples, to Peter’s home. Peter was a married man, with children probably (Mt. 17:24, 25); Judas also (Ps.109: 9, 12) and probably others among the apostles (1 Cor.9:5). But evidently Andrew was unmarried, for he lived with Peter (Mk. 1:29).

If Peter had a settled home at this time, how could it be said of him that he “forsook all”? How, near the end of the Lord’s ministry, could he say: “We have left all and followed thee” (Mt. 19:27)?

The explanation appears to be this: The first of these two references relates to Peter’s normal work as a fisherman; the other was true soon after this, and thenceforward, when Peter and the rest left their homes in order to be with Jesus constantly.

There is some uncertainty as to the location of Peter’s home at this time. When he first met Jesus, he was “of Bethsaida” (Jn. 1:44). Yet, on this sabbath, after preaching and healing in the synagogue at Capernaum (Tell Hum, by general agreement) Jesus went immediately to Peter’s house. Two possibilities present themselves. Either Peter and Andrew had lately moved to Capernaum, or the Bethsaida where they lived was within easy distance of Capernaum. It seems almost certain that there were two Bethsaidas (= Fisher-town; cp. Port Said). The sites suggested for these are about three miles from Capernaum, in opposite directions. But this distance is well over “a sabbath day’s journey” (= about 3/5 of a mile), unless there was a special dispensation to go further for the purpose of attending a synagogue. It seems much more likely that Peter’s Bethsaida was actually a suburb of Capernaum. The geographers do not seem to have considered this possibility.

“A great fever”

No sooner was Jesus in the house than he was urgently asked for help -- Peter’s mother-in-law was prostrated with “a great fever”. According to one authority this expression was used by contemporaries to describe what was, judging from the symptoms, typhus. The fever was most acute, and (Luke’s Greek seems to imply) was continuing, without showing any sign of abating.

Apparently Jesus knew nothing of this domestic emergency until he got to the house, or he would surely have come to the sufferer’s aid before this. Now the fever had been running its distressing course for most of the day (at least). Yet when a high fever shows no sign of breaking there is real ground for alarm. Then with what impatience had Peter’s wife awaited the end of the synagogue service! She had every reason for anxiety.

Immediate recovery

The request was put to Jesus only once (Lk. 4:38 Gk). No more was needed. He went at once to her bed-side (Lk) and grasping her hand (Mk), sat her up in bed (Mk). Then, he rebuked the fever (Lk) -- and it was gone! She was up from her bed immediately, and proceeded right away (Lk) to help with the sabbath evening meal and especially to look offer the needs of Jesus (Mt: Gk text) as he relaxed at table. There was no sign in her of the usual hang-over of debility and lassitude. The sufferer’s recovery was instantaneous and complete.

The ways of commentators are passing strange. “It was not a great miracle”, observes one learned man. He would surely have written differently if he had had that fever himself!

Luke’s description: “he rebuked the fever”, reads as though addressed to a demon. Here, again, so it would seem, the reader is intended to envisage the poor woman’s suffering as the work of one of God’s angels of evil.

There was of course, no arrière pensée about the working of this miracle. Yet how valuable it must have been to Jesus in later days. It is no light thing to take a man from his home and wife and family and livelihood to become a peripatetic preacher. Yet this is what Jesus had demanded of Peter that day. And for the rest of his life Peter followed. “Lord, we have left all, and followed thee.” Such response is hardly possible without the full assent and cooperation of wife and family. If such enthusiastic support was not already evident, this healing of Peter’s mother-in-law guaranteed it. From this day forward Peter need never be looking over his shoulder wondering how this wandering life as disciple of Jesus of Nazareth was regarded by the folks at home.

A Mass Appeal to Jesus

If it was the afternoon service at the synagogue (the time of the evening sacrifice) when Jesus healed the demoniac, there would be just time for him to enjoy a meal before the day’s end at sun-down. Just time also for every home in Capernaum where there was illness of any kind to make feverish preparations to bring their sick folk to Peter’s house for healing as soon as the sabbath was technically ended. According to Luke their eagerness stretched a point and set this operation in motion before the sabbath was quite ended.

It must have been an astonishing sight in that twilight -- many small groups of people converging on the same spot, as sick folk were led (Lk) or carried thither (Mk) and set down there (Mt) in eager expectation of aid comparable to that exercise of power witnessed in the synagogue. “The entire city was now synagogued at the door.”

This appeal to the compassion of Jesus was not to be resisted. He went out to them and healed them all individually. He laid his hands in blessing on each sick or diseased person separately (Lk). There were further examples of the mentally unbalanced crying out (Lk), like the man in the synagogue, that this Jesus was the Messiah (a sentiment their bemused wits must have taken in from much of the excited talk which went on around them), only to be immediately silenced with a word of authority (Mt), for this was a form of advertisement or acclaim that Jesus could well do without (Mk).

The wonderful work continued (Lk) probably right through the twilight until darkness fell. Between them the synoptic writers exhaust the available vocabulary in attempts to picture the wide variety of ailments and disabilities brought to Jesus in that hour (cp. also Mt. 4:24). Luke’s phrase is specially emphatic. Yet all were sent away well and happy. That night the only sick persons in the town were those who said: ‘That Jesus of Nazareth is no good.’ Never was such a healthy place as Capernaum just then.

But alas, not so spiritually (Mt. 11:20, 23, 24).

In his gospel Matthew repeatedly drives home the point that there was no human need beyond the power of Christ to cope with (12:15; 14:35, 36; 4:24). It is a lesson the present age refuses to learn. And today, as then, it is to each individual separately according to his need that the Lord’s help comes.

According to the Scriptures

Matthew again, after his manner in the early part of his gospel, links this healing work of Jesus with Old Testament prophecy regarding him: “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses”. Here instead of the familiar Septuagint text there is a more strictly literal translation. In the original text (ls. 53:4) the first word means “sickness” and the second “pain”, either physical or psychological, i.e. “grief”. But the context there clearly has reference to sin-sickness. This is without doubt the fundamental meaning. It should not be assumed that Matthew is misapplying the passage or distorting its meaning. The gospel writers must always be given credit for knowing what they are about. Here then, rather, is Matthew’s way of enunciating a principle which will be found to run right through the gospel records: The greater includes the less; these miracles are not merely wonders, they are signs, acted parables, another form of teaching, and readers of the gospels are the losers if they let this pass them by. (For example, the word describing the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law comes in only one other place: Dt. 28:22!). This aspect of the Lord’s miracles is one which the student of the gospels is constantly encountering. It is important.

Notes: Matthew 8:14-17

These verses are chronologically out of place, due to the method by which Matthew assembles his material according to subject. Chapters 8, 9 concentrate on a catalogue of miracles, so it is not inappropriate for this miracle to be included here.

Peter’s house. Even if the Lord’s own family had moved to Capernaum about this time, there are hints that Jesus used Peter’s home as his real headquarters, so far as he had any; 17:24, 25.
Touched her hand. Mark’s equivalent is: “grasped her hand”. This helps to modify the meaning of Jn. 20:17, and to make it more intelligible.
Brought. Very cleverly (if that word may be allowed without offence) Mt. employs here a word of double meaning; it also means

“to bring as a sacrifice to the altar.” Thus there is not only the idea of our Lord’s divine status, but also that these sick folk besides being carried to him were also dedicated to his praise.

Possessed with devils... cast out the spirits. Lk’s equivalent:

Sick with divers diseases, and he healed them. Note also Mt’s own parallel in v. 1 7.

Healed all. This “all” comes from ls. 53:6. Other mass healings: 4:24; 12:15; 14:35, 36.
Bore our sicknesses. The double meaning mentioned in the text comes in markedly here -- at personal cost, now in the tearing of compassionate soul, possibly in draining his energies, and certainly looking forward to his bearing of sin at Golgotha.

Notes: Mark 1:29-34

When they were come. This word “come”, twice repeated (Gk) might possibly imply that Peter (the “author” of this gospel) had not been to the synagogue -- kept at home by the emergency?
Fever. The likely alternative to typhus is malaria.
Took her by the hand. “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord ... He upholdeth him with his hand” (Ps. 37:23, 24). So also Mk. 5:41; 9:27. This double miracle -- (a) fever gone; (b) no continuing weakness -- is matched by Lk. 5:5, 6; Jn. 9:7, 9; Mt. 8:26; Acts 3:7, 8.

She ministered unto them. So also others who know themselves healed by Christ will be glad to express their gratitude in service.
Cp. Mark’s other early pictures of growing crowds: 1:37, 45; 2:2, 13, 15; 3:7-10, 20, 32.

Luke 4:38-41

He arose. The implication is that Jesus had been seated, the usual posture of a synagogue teacher. Nor had he risen from his seat to heal the demoniac.
He laid his hands on every one. Such examples as Gen. 48:14; Lev. 8:22, 23; Mt. 19:13 is the idea that of transfer of blessing or personal identification with those concerned? In Lev. 1:4; 3:2; 8:14; 16:21, certainly not blessing but the burden of sin.

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