The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). That first statement, caught Persis somewhat by surprise. She had never heard anyone use the word “gospel” about anything that was written. It had always been about something preached orally.
As the brother continued to read the letter from Mark, he said The time has come, he said. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. (1:15). Some kingdom Persis thought, a group of frightened people, meeting underground because they are afraid of being found. She thought, look what believing the good news has brought to my life.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. (1:35). It seemed strange that Jesus, the Son of God, needed to get off to a solitary place and pray to God. Still, she remember how comforting prayer had been in her life, especially when she and Octavius prayed together.
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (3:6). Those words just sent cold chills up and down her spine. Hatred, conflict, plotting — even in the days of Jesus. Was it always going to be this way?
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brother?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (3:31-35). People never had understood what Jesus was all about, then or now in Rome. They hated Christians because they were different, and they didn’t understand why they were different. They didn’t really know what Christians wanted to do, how they wanted to live, and what their dreams and goals were.
As the good brother continued to read, he told those marvelous stories that had always thrilled the hearts of all the disciples … the calming of the sea (4:35-41), and the healing of the sick woman and the raising of the dead girl (5:21-43). Persis thoughts soared as she thought of all the power that the Lord had, and how he had demonstrated that power to demonstrate that he really was who he said he was. Why, you could almost hear the preaching of Peter in the words of Mark. As suddenly as her thoughts had soared, they had came crashing down! Why couldn’t he use his power NOW, to save his people from this awful life they had?
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” (8:29). Persis could not help but think, “That’s right, but look at what it cost you, Peter.” Besides, she thought, it must have been easy to believe in Jesus in those days, with all the power he demonstrated in the miracles that he did.
It was at that point in the reading, that Persis noticed a change in what was being said, sort of like a change in emphasis; or, at least it seemed that way to her. He ten began to teach them the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (8:31) She was sure of it, John Mark had found a new focus, a new emphasis, for the events and teachings in the life of the Lord. Jesus is now teaching the disciples “the way of the cross” (8:34-38). Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last, and the servant of all.” (9:35). For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45). Persis thought to herself, it’s as if he’s saying “I’ve shown you I have the power, but I control that power to serve my Father, and my disciples. Serving even to the point of suffering and death!”
“While they were reclining at the table eating, he said “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.” (14:18). That part of the reading shook Persis to the core of her very being, as she thought that may be Jesus really did know how they felt. She had struggled with her feelings for a long time, since so many of their problems were caused by those from their own number, had (to protect their own lives) betrayed them; by revealing their locations to the Roman soldiers.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” (14:30). Persis couldn’t help it, but she looked over at Demetrius, who had his bowed with tears streaming down is cheeks. She thought, he has to be remembering when the Roman soldier placed the spear to his side, and threateningly asked “Lord Jesus, or Lord Caesar.” In that moment, out of fear and weakness, he had replied “Lord Caesar.” Since that time, Demetrius had never been able to hold his head up and look other Christians in the eye. But, now he lifted it up, and she could not help but think of the comfort and reassurance that he must have felt. He knew that Peter was an apostle, a preacher, and one of their elders; and he had been guilty of the same mistake he was; and just look how God had loved him, and used him.
As the brother read the story of the crucifixion (15:15-37), cold chills went up and down Persis’ spine. The horror of what had happened to her family was vivid in her mind, as the listened to the words about the suffering of Jesus. But, this is what Jesus said would happened to those that followed him. Maybe Octavius, Gaius, and Athena knew this, and that is why they willingly gave their lives rather than to denounce the Lord.
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39). There it was again, that same confession, the one Peter had made earlier (8:37). Yes, it was all worth it, because Jesus was the Son of God. Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (16:6).
Persis left that assembly stronger, her faith rejuvenated, her resolve to practice righteousness and trust in Gd and his power increased many times. Jesus did understand her feelings: the betrayal, the denial, the hurt, the loss, the separation, and the pain. Her family had suffered and died, and she might also, serving “in the way of the cross”; but Jesus had suffered and died to provide that way for her. She understood that Jesus had the power to reclaim their lives at his coming, in the resurrection; because there had been no grave that could hold him.
She resolved that day to spend the rest of her life, doing what Jesus had asked: “…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (16:15-16).
(I hope that this story about the reading of Mark is a blessing to you. Part 1 was yesterday, and it will conclude tomorrow with Part 3. Bill)