In recent years, I have become fascinated with stories in Scripture featuring nameless women. One such passage was the gospel reading for the first Sunday of February – Mark’s account of Jesus’ encounter with Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31).

Jesus is walking from the synagogue to the home shared by Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, after healing a demon-possessed man at Capernaum’s synagogue. Upon entering the home, the brothers inform Jesus that Peter’s mother-in-law is bedridden with a fever. Jesus goes to her bedside, takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever immediately subsides. In Luke’s version, Jesus rebukes the fever—just as he had rebuked the demon at the synagogue. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all conclude their accounts by noting the woman’s rapid response: healed of her affliction, Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve them.

I used to chafe at the idea that the woman was expected to wait on these men as soon as she was liberated from her sickbed. Upon further review, I am convinced that Peter’s nameless mother-in-law is not simply adhering to a normative gender or cultural role; I believe she is responding authentically to Jesus’ healing work in her life by exercising her God-given gift of hospitality. Motivated by deep gratitude and boundless joy, she began to serve them.

The Greek verb that is translated as “serve” is diakoneo, from which we derive the word deacon. Mark employs the same verb earlier in this chapter when he describes how the angels waited on Jesus in the wilderness after he was tempted by Satan. This is the verb that Jesus uses when he informs his disciples that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

In the crucifixion narrative, Mark references the women who had served Jesus while he was in Galilee. While Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of servanthood, the Twelve seem to have missed the mark. Dr. Alan Culpepper writes: “Serving is important because Jesus himself came to serve, but Mark never says that the disciples served Jesus–an observation that underscores the theme of the failure of the disciples in Mark. Believers, therefore should imitate not the disciples, but the ‘angelic’ role of Peter’s mother-in-law and the women from Galilee.”

The brief story of a nameless woman who served her Savior was an apt one for reflection during Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Since 2007, Baptist Women in Ministry has encouraged Baptist churches to participate in this annual event by inviting a woman to preach during the month of February. Named in honor of an eighteenth-century Separate Baptist preacher, this initiative was undertaken to provide opportunities for women to use their God-given gifts.

While participation in this emphasis has grown exponentially over the past decade, progress has still been slower than many of us would like. Last year only seven Baptist churches in Tennessee invited women to preach for this initiative. How many women are there in my home state who are longing for the chance to use their gifts in the pulpit? Surely more than seven.

During my first year at Beeson Divinity School, I registered for a class called “The History of Women in Preaching.” I honestly did not know that there was a history of women in preaching, because I had never heard a female preacher. I did not take that class because I thought I could preach—on the contrary, the realization that I would be required to preach for a grade was terrifying. I took the class because I was curious. Had God gifted women to preach?

When I preached my required sermon for the class, I chose a passage from Acts 9 as my text—the story of Dorcas, a servant who made clothes for the widows in her community. Although I was dreadfully nervous, I walked away from that experience having learned something about myself and my God—my God had gifted me to preach.

In subsequent years, I repeatedly asked God why I would be given a gift that I would not be able to use in the church. I knew that few doors were open for women like me who dared to believe that we were called to preach. Nine years after I preached my first sermon in that class, I finally discovered a church where I could use all of my spiritual gifts. My heart grieves for other women who have responded faithfully to God’s call, who have actively nurtured God’s gifts, and yet have no place to serve, no place to fully live into their calling.

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” This is a natural response of a follower of Jesus Christ to God’s redemptive, healing activity in her life. May doors open for all of God’s daughters to use their gifts to serve their Savior.

Tambi Swiney is associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. 

*R. Alan Culpepper, Mark (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007): 70.


The audio from this sermon from which this blog was adapted can be accessed at