Jesus as Guest: Hospitality in the Ministry of Jesus

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry are filled with stories of hospitality — Jesus entertained and Jesus entertaining. In the Gospel of John, our first and last glimpses of Jesus show him hosting his disciples. After his baptism, he entertains his first disciples at his home after catching them trailing him like curious fans, and after his resurrection, he is found on the shore of the Sea of Galilee preparing fish and bread for his weary disciples coming in from a night of fishing.[1]

Throughout, Jesus models the hospitality he teaches, sharing food as he reveals himself to his disciples, serving them as he teaches them to minister to others. His teaching is in conversation, often one-on-one, preaching to the multitudes, but revealing his identity to individuals in intimate conversation.

Peter’s Mother-in-Law

In Mark, Jesus first experiences hospitality as the guest of his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, along with James and John (1:29-31). He is in Capernaum and has had a remarkable morning in this first Sabbath of his public ministry. His teaching in the synagogue has attracted the admiration of the people who note that he teaches with authority. A dramatic casting out of demons further demonstrates his authority even over unclean spirits, and while his fame spreads, Jesus escapes the commotion and seeks hospitality in the house of his friends. What would he have wanted to find there? A bit of peace and quiet, perhaps. Refuge from the crowds. A quiet conversation with his new disciples who should certainly have some questions about what had just happened there. And food for sure. Sabbath dinner. But nothing is on the table.

The narrator tells us that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. The disciples don’t mention it until they get to the house. Perhaps it is not serious; she is just down with a bug. Though a fever was often regarded as punishment for sin, sometimes a fever is just a fever.[2] They don’t ask Jesus to heal her. They have just seen him cast out demons, but disease is something else again, no reason to think that, too, is in his repertoire. Their explanation seems more in the way of apology that there is no food on the table. They will need to scrounge the cupboards for peanut butter and jelly. The cook is out of commission.

But Jesus responds immediately with a flurry of verbs. He proceeds directly to her bedside, takes her by the hand (some say “seizes” or “grasps” her hand), and lifts her up, and then, the narrator says, “the fever left her.” The translation of the verb “left” is too mild. The literal reading is that “the fever forsook her,” or fled from her, much like the evil spirits had fled from the body of the demoniac.[3] In both cases, Jesus sends the demons and the disease scurrying, showing his power over the forces that destroy life and health. M. Eugene Boring explains, “As the fever had represented the leading edge of death, the story represents the leading edge of the divine power at work in Jesus’ resurrection.”[4] The word “lifts” might be better translated as “raises her up,” because it is the same word used to describe the raising of the dead, including Jesus’ own resurrection. He raises her to new life.

And Peter’s mother-in-law swings into action, too. The fever leaves her, and she begins to serve them. Aside from the threat to her life and health, the fever has robbed her of her work. She is unable to provide hospitality to the guests in her own home, the work that shaped her days and gave her identity and dignity in the community. Jesus restores that when he grasps her hand and lifts her up.

She immediately begins to serve them. Most people Jesus healed respond with rejoicing and praise, even when he tells them to be silent. But she serves him. What does she do, exactly? Certainly she prepares a meal. This may sound a bit patriarchal, raising up a woman to cook dinner, but Mark’s audience would have seen a person restored to full vigor and life, joyfully, energetically, and with gratitude serving her guests.

But there is more to it than that. I think Mark’s narrator is throwing a knowing glance at the reader and asking, do you get it? The verb translated “served” is the great work of ministry to which we are all called. It is the same word used of the angels who minister to Jesus after his victory over Satan in the desert (1:13). Jesus had angels to minister to him at the beginning of his work of salvation, and at the end of his ministry, the women who are witnesses to his crucifixion are named and honored as those who followed him and served him (15:41). The women and the angels form bookends around the ministry of Jesus, ministering to him at its beginning and at its end. Perhaps Jesus has just called his first female disciple.

I wonder, as Peter’s mother-in-law ministered to him that day, if she might have washed his feet. The story says nothing about it. But it seems possible. They had just walked in the door. No one else was there to do it. Certainly not the disciples. It was considered the task of a servant, often of a woman servant. If she did, she would have been the first disciple of Jesus to get his message that he “came not to be served but to serve “(10:45). That “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35).[5] As Oswald Chambers explains it in My Utmost for His Highest, “The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet.”[6] Jesus modeled it as the host at the Last Supper, his last opportunity to teach what ministry meant, what discipleship meant. While the disciples were still asking who will be the greatest and seeking some grand work to do, “Jesus . . . took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”[7]

I wonder if Jesus might have thought of this woman as he was washing his horrified disciples’ feet at his own Last Supper. “This servanthood thing you keep talking about, Lord, certainly you don’t mean that literally. Not the actual work of servants. Not the work of women.” But there he is, kneeling before them with their dirty feet in his hands. Apparently he means it. Literally. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

Mark places at the beginning of Christ’s ministry a little story of what ministry means. In her ministry to Jesus and the disciples, this nameless woman may be providing a model of what ministry looks like, a ministry of service we can maintain in our homes and in our lives. As we welcome the stranger, we may find ourselves entertaining Jesus and be healed of our own fevers, restored to our work that we realize is indeed the work of a servant, the work that Jesus took upon himself and called us to do as his disciples.

Notes:

[1] See my article, “Jesus as Host: Hospitality in the Ministry of Jesus.” http://spectrummagazine.org. October 16, 2016.

[2] Deut 28:22; Lev 26:16. See David E. Garland, Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 72.

[4] Mark: A Commentary. New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 66.

[5] R. Clifford Jones, “Jesus and Leadership,” in Servants and Friends: A Biblical Theology of Leadership, ed. Skip Bell (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2014), pp. 277-290. See also Hisako Kinukawa, Women and Jesus in Mark: A Japanese Feminist Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 90-106.

[6] “The Destitution of Service,” February 25 (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Books, 1935).

[7] Chambers, “Get a Move On,” June 15.

Beverly Beem has recently retired from the English department at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington. The above essay is a follow up to Jesus as Host which appeared on Spectrum in October 2016.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7904

The words of Jesus are so powerful–“In as much”. what an example, what an invitation, what a challenge. I sit here with an I Pad, while my brother is given less than four days to live and I can do nothing, except pray for his children and siblings. I know he rests in the same hands that healed Peter’s mother. Praise be to God for His Assurance .

3 Likes

Dear Tom,
Our prayers go out to you, your brother and your family.
May he know that through Christ he has been reconciled to God, and he need not fear death for it has been defeated.
May you know that some day you will be together once more in the kingdom.

6 Likes

Jack passed way 24 hours ago. thank you for your kind words.

8 Likes

So sorry for your loss, Tom. Losing our loved ones is hard, but thankfully, we can take comfort in knowing in whom we have believed. Prayers for you and yours.

2 Likes

What a wonderful article ." Jesus as Guest ". Oh that I can take it to heart to be like Jesus. To see everyone as a friend or a brother . To be able to both help and meet the needs of others as I see them everyday. To have a heart full of love for service to others. To be able to feel their lost, as if it were my own .I pray for the family of Jack/Tom . May God bring comfort to you at this time . What a joy, Jack had knowing that you loved him . Praise God.

2 Likes

Thank you for your timely reminder of what being a disciple of Jesus is about. It is possible to come up with different proposals, but I agree with your choice of the unmistakable message of the gospel of Mark. Jesus came to serve and his disciples must be servants. It is too easy to dismiss the thought, but we go astray if we do. Thank you for keeping us on the road.

3 Likes

The practice of hospitality—most often ignored.

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Lk 14 NIV

I have always wondered how this would play out if this were the custom in all our ministerial banquets and retreats. If our honored guests, in the center of the room were from the local homeless shelter. Jesus ties this custom to the “resurrection of the righteous.”

I wonder if we have ever taken Jesus’ words seriously? I wonder how comfortable we would be with the manners, personal grooming of the homeless, the unemployed, who may be addicted to drugs, alcohol or petty thief.

3 Likes

Frank –
One of the problems with many SDA city churches is that they are AFRAID to join with Babylonian Sunday Keeping Churches in providing services to the marginalized, the homeless. Many of the homeless I know here in Macon have been in jail, many more than one time. There are those with drug and alcohol problems.
BUT none of our white church members volunteer at the week day lunch feeding program at the Methodist church who serve approx 250 for lunch Mon – Fri. None volunteer at Daybreak, the daytime homeless place for persons to rest, get clothes washed, showers, telephone and internet, see a nurse, several times a month see a Physician Assistant. Use it as their address for mail. Coffee and snack in the afternoon. Water.
Other community programs that are sponsored by a number of Sunday churches by volunteer members,
We do have a Black SDA conference church, but I don’t know what they do.

Peter’s wife’s Mother was Jesus’ FIRST woman disciple.

3 Likes

Though not specifically on the topic of hospitality, a thought about service came to mind when reflecting on this article:

The church is often depicted as a woman in Scripture.
Does Peter’s mother-in-law represent Judaism? Was her illness a comment on its condition by God? Having a relationship to the first disciples based on the law, but now older, impaired, not healthy and no longer fulfilling her role of attending to the needs of the people.

Was one point of the story to show that the initial aim of Christ’s ministry was to give Judaism opportunity at revival (and a return to its proper role of serving others) through recognition and acceptance of His healing grace as the Messiah? Was this woman’s response and subsequent recovery a kind of ‘what might have been’ for Judaism? (Matt 23:37)

All I can say is, Praise God for those “Babylonian Sunday Keeping Christians”!

It seems that a religion based in fear is worthless, especially fear of fellow believers. Not a religion I want to be a part of, nor would I want anyone else to join, or remain in it.

So sorry to read of your loss, Tom, of your brother Jack. Praying for comfort and peace for you and your family. God hold you close in your grief. Death, be not proud for you shall die. @TomZwemer

1 Like

So very sorry to hear of your loss Tom. Thanks for your conversations on Spectrum and also your willingness to share sadness together with hope.


I love the stories of Jesus eating and dining among his friends. While appreciating that theologians like to make hay of this and speak of it as part of his ministry, so often it is a kind of ‘spiritualising’ of Jesus’ personality, a making of him into the perfect missionary ideal. I am afraid such sermonising often bores me and I find it too much rooted in 19th century literature about Jesus.

I rather enjoy getting to grips with the human Jesus - a sort of special exercise in a type of *Christology I suppose. Like all of us I am sure he cherished friendship and greatly enjoyed conversation simply for the sake of friendship and conversation. Of course, quite naturally some of the stories of his sharing meals come close to the heart. What a magnificent human he must have been!

In my own life there have been those ‘special people’ - few indeed - who possess great and majestic personalities and of whom I have had the pleasure to ‘sup’ with. I have always come away well filled - both with delicious food and a warmed heart. I think especially of my old friend pastor the late Don Thomas and finally a Royal Air Force retired deputy air commodore and fighter pilot. A strange coupling together but both gracious people.

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
to the Father through features of men’s faces.
- (‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ - Gerard Manley Hopkins)


  • Christology - Two fascinating views of Jesus are found in Marcus Borg’s ‘Portrait of Jesus’ and Gerald O’Collins scholarly ‘Christology’. O’Collins closing chapter ‘The Possibilities of Presence’ is especially beautiful.
1 Like