Friday of Pentecost 3 – Mark 3:20-35

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In the first centuries of Christianity, periodic persecutions broke out against Christians. Many modern Christians have inflated these persecutions. There were many decades in which the Church was not persecuted. Often persecutions were very localized and not prosecuted evenly. There were also many Christians who were not brave in the face of persecution. Some, however, were. In the opening years of the third the emperor Septimius Severus began to persecute Christians, Jews, and anyone who would not join in his preferred religion of the unconquered sun (it sounds better in Latin: Sol Invictus). Like many elements of ancient history, this is hotly contested and there are conflicting accounts of whether he or subordinates were behind the persecution.

What is not up for debate is the impact of the martyrdom of several Christians in the arena in Carthage from the first years of the century. The account of the death of Felicitas and Perpetua by wild beasts became a sensation in the ancient world. You can still read it today; it is readily available in an internet search. These two women, one a young noblewoman and the other her servant/slave, came to embody faithful Christian virtue for early Christians. Perpetua rejected her father’s pleas that she should deny Christ. Felicitas, the servant, handed her newborn child through the bars of her cell into the care of a fellow Christian rather than renounce her faith in Jesus.

Jesus’ words today are shocking. Who is closest to him? It is not his biological mother and siblings. The religious leaders of the day certainly did not have that claim. He points to the crowds of people who eagerly listen to his words. Here are his mother and siblings. Those who do the will of God have communion with Him. Even in days of persecution, especially in days of persecution, He is never far from those who believe and act on that faith. Perpetua and her servant Felicitas believed that. Christ’s words remain true today. Trust his promises to you. Live the life to which he calls you today. You are close to Him right now.

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