Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and or for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Today much of the Church honours the memory of SS Perpetua and Felicity – and, unless you are very interested in the Early Church or were brought up (or are) Roman Catholic – you probably haven’t heard of them! Catholics are familiar with the names as they are two of the saints mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer used at mass.
Perpetua was a young Roman noble woman who had converted to Christianity; Felicity was her slave who had also converted. They were martyred – in the arena – in the 3rd Century and the diary that Perpetua kept is unusual in that it’s considered authentic and has the voice of a woman from antiquity. Understandably, Perpetua’s father begs her to renounce her faith but she refused and, days after giving birth, she, alongside Felicity who had also just given birth, was put to death for their faith.
There is much in this story to shock us – martyrdom for faith, a Christian keeping a slave, the young babies would never have known their mothers and the brutality of their executions. However, it is interesting to hear of women who suffered martyrdom (and a simple recanting of their faith would have saved them) and a Roman woman standing up to her father (which was very brave and unusual).
In the Gospel reading we read one of Jesus’ harder sayings where he rebalances all the traditional family values that were in the ancient world. Interestingly, the Christian Church is often seen, and often sees itself, as a protector of family values, we often speak about the Lord’s Prayer as “the family prayer” and we often associate social patterns of family with divine favour. Yet Jesus warns us about putting families above following him. For all the horror of Perpetua and Felicity’s martyrdom, we see a radical discipleship from two women who would have had little power over their own lives due to their gender and, in Felicity’s case, her servitude. Their faith revolutionized them – has your faith turned you around?
God of the ages,
help us to see beyond the confines of our culture,
so that we may more clearly see you
at work in our world.
Give us the courage to follow you,
even when that is scary,
even when family and friends don’t understand.
Andy Braunston is the North Western Synod Clerk and is preparing for URC ministry at the Scottish College
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