FIRST READING Isaiah 49:14-16
14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my LORD has forgotten me.” 15 Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
SECOND READING Matthew 10:21-31
21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
GOSPEL READING LUKE 8:1-3
1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Questioned For Christ – A Question of Innocence
By now you hopefully know the theme question I’m asking for our Lenten series: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Initially, that is when Jesus was arrested, His followers fled in the face of adversity in order to avoid arrest themselves and possible persecution. However, a few, including the women of the group, remained close during Jesus’ entire passion and crucifixion. Mary Magdalene was among the women there that night and certainly could have been arrested as a known associate of Jesus, but at the same time, because of her supposed lifestyle, there were those who might have questioned her sincerity. The question we need to then ask ourselves is, “if people examined our life, would they question our sincerity?
One of the better known names from the Bible, even among unbelievers, is the name Mary Magdalene. This is surprising, since those of us who are familiar with Scripture find very little information about her. She’s mentioned as part of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and used their resources to provide for the group. She’s the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. She was also with the women who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they placed Jesus’ body in the tomb. They did this with the intension of coming back after the Passover so that they could anoint the hastily buried body of Jesus with spices. She is perhaps best known for her conversation with Jesus at the empty tomb. We easily recall the story where she first thought He was the gardener, but when she realized He was the risen Lord, she wanted to hold on to Him and not let go. She was the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection and the first to announce it to the hiding disciples. Beyond that we know nothing else about her.
So why has her name become synonymous with a former lady of the streets, a reformed prostitute? It’s probably because of a series of assumptions. Demon possession in ancient times not only meant that a person was afflicted with mental, emotional or physical problems, but often these people were considered especially sinful, with moral shortcomings as well. If society declared you an outcast that meant no association with the synagogue or with family and friends, and you wouldn’t be able to acquire a job. Often the result was a life of begging, stealing or prostitution. Another erroneous assumption is that she’s believed to be the woman of the streets who crashed the banquet at Simon the Pharisee’s house, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. But there is no evidence of that. However, this notion has been popularized in movies and books, where Mary Magdalene is portrayed not only as a loose woman, but as a love interest for Jesus. This is clearly a fabrication; but that’s the nature of rumors, isn’t it?
How would you feel if you were falsely accused? What if false stories were spread about you? Would you be angry? Would you want to respond? Would you feel compelled to defend your reputation? All these are natural reactions to having your character maligned. But what would you get for all your protestations? The more you deny your guilt, the more others think of you as guilty. As the saying goes, “me thinks thee protest too much.” Jesus was no stranger to false accusations.
The Sanhedrin brought in false witnesses to lie about him, but they couldn’t get their stories straight. What was Jesus’ response? Isaiah declares: “Like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). When pressed to defend Himself in sworn statement, He essentially said: “Yes, I am the Son of God … look at my works … listen to those who have heard me.” Jesus, although found innocent by Pilate, was crucified without the opportunity to properly defend Himself. He endured the humiliation, the beating, the mocking and the abuse at the hands of the Romans; He suffered all of this, and He did it for you and for me. So, in light of Jesus’ actions during His sham of a hearing, how should we respond when rumors are spread about us?
During His trial, false witnesses lied about Jesus. As Jesus hung on the cross, He was mocked and ridiculed. What should we do, how should we respond when lies and rumors are spread about us? We look to Jesus. We follow in His steps. Jesus didn’t revile or threaten in return. He entrusted Himself to His Father. Scripture tells us: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24). Christ set for us the example of how we’re to respond to gossip, false accusations and rumors.
When we do speak, we’re to do so with gentleness, not defend our innocence; rather we’re to speak of Christ’s forgiveness. The Scriptures continue: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16). When faced with persecutions for our faith we’re to respond with gentleness and rejoice! As Jesus said: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
So, what have people been saying about you? Is there enough evidence to convict you as a Christian? The innocent Son of God endured the Cross so that you, through faith in His name, could be declared “Not guilty!” Through faith in Christ, and enabled by His Spirit, may others see in you not just a sinner—but a forgiven sinner who by words and actions glorifies the Savior!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.