The Evangelists Saint Mark and Saint Luke (detail) (1635)
Father Panula, in his homily today, pointed to an intriguing part of Mark's Gospel, Mark 10:17-23, which appears to be autobiographical:
And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth."
And Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"This account appears in Matthew and Luke's Gospels as well (Mt. 19:16-23; Lk. 18:18-24), but Mark includes a unique detail: that Jesus looked upon the man, and loved him. The intimacy of this detail, coupled with the fact that we know Mark was a rich young man, makes it likely that the man was Mark himself. Later, after telling of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark adds (Mark 14:51-52),
A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.Again, Mark's is the only Gospel to mention this detail, and again, it's probably autobiographical. In fact, it appears to be the main reason to include this detail at all.
|Paolo Veronese, Barnabas Curing the Sick (1566)|
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphyl'ia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.In Colossians 4:10, St. Paul mentions an Evangelizer named Mark that he describes as Barnabas' cousin, and it's probably the same Mark. Certainly, this might explain why the dispute over whether or not to bring Mark along would be of such importance to Barnabas and Paul. It's while accompanying Barnabas that Mark founds the Church at Alexandria, one of the greatest of the early Christian churches.
|Jusepe Leonardo, Saint Mark (1630)|
Mark ends up bravely following St. Peter to Rome, the heart of the Empire trying to destroy the Christians. We know this from the way that Peter sends regards from the Roman Church in 1 Peter 5:13, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.” Irenaeus tells us that in Rome, Mark served as the “disciple and interpreter of Peter,” leading him to “hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” That writing, of course, is the Gospel of Mark.
It's also here in Rome that Mark seems to have made amends with St. Paul. In Colossians 4:10, during St. Paul's first imprisonment in Rome (see Acts 28:16), he seems to send Mark to the Christians of Colossae, writing, “Aristar'chus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions -- if he comes to you, receive him).” Later, Paul would write to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
Eventually, we know from tradition that Mark's life ends well. In addition to founding the Church in Alexandria, Egypt (mentioned above), he served as bishop, and it was there that he was martyred for the faith. But it's fascinating to see how much of a struggle the Christian life was for him, particularly early on: how often he set out to chase the Gospel, chickened out, and ran away. To his great credit, he never let these failures keep him down, turning back to God after every time he failed. And for this, he's commemorated today. May he be an inspiration to those of us who similarly struggle with cowardice in the faith. Happy Feast Day of Saint Mark!