Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s wonderful blog post this morning and I thought I’d spend some time with you about it. With all due respect to Fred and his copyright on this material, I’d like to copy and paste parts of his blog that struck me and then talk with you about them.
It wasn’t a simple disagreement but a showdown that resulted in both men, once fast friends, turning away from each other for the balance of their lives.
The opening sentence had me. Assuming this would be a Bible story, I knew the reference immediately. How sad to have a relationship defined this way 2,000 years later. And I’m certain Paul must have regretted this break between them after Barnabas was dead. How horrible. I’m sure both of them would look back and think that they took this moment much too seriously. And maybe Paul was right and Mark needed tough love. And maybe Barnabas was right and he needed mercy and instruction. Maybe they were both right and maybe they were both wrong. But Satan loves to divide us from each other. Hopefully, you were able to take this break and spread your gospel wider because of it.
Speaking of Satan dividing us, while I was making my breakfast this morning, I felt different feelings of residual anger towards different people in my life. After a couple of minutes it was almost as if the Holy Spirit would whisper to me that Satan was attacking me and trying to cause divisions, so I would give mercy and move on. Then it would happen again with someone else. I would just be standing alone in the kitchen and start to feel anger towards someone for things done to me years ago. Pitiful. But it’s a good plan of attack on Satan’s part. bitterness feeds those selfish parts of our hearts and tears us apart from each other and you. Thank you for helping me to be aware of what was happening to me. I am sorry to you that I still apparently carry so much bitterness around with me.
As a young man John Mark was surrounded by the apostles and leaders of the movement coming to his home. His mother, Mary, was wealthy and influential. With access to relationships and rare advantages a young man could not have had more exposure to courage, miracles, heroic figures and the first days of the greatest events in the history of the world.
Still, Mark was weak and afraid. He ran naked from Gethsemane. He quit Paul and Barnabas when conditions were difficult. He disappointed the ones who took a risk on him.
Did Mark have too many advantages? Was he not tough enough because he had been raised in privilege? I was watching one of the episodes in the 10-part series about the Chicago Bulls called The Last Dance. There was a story about two Bulls players on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team who decided they had a score to settle with a player on the Croatia team because their general manager was negotiating to give him more money than one of their current key players. This player hadn’t done anything to them personally, but they decided to teach their GM a lesson by humiliating this kid. And in the first game they did, but one of the people they interviewed made a comment about the Croatian kid’s resilience. He said that the NBA players didn’t understand what a kid from Croatia had overcome in the 80s and early 90s. He was tougher than that and he came back in the second game, played well, and earned their respect.
John Mark was going to have to suffer some setbacks if he was going to be ready to really serve with the new church. I’m sure this rift between Paul and Barnabas was used by you to help prepare him for future work.
It would be logical to predict he would fade away and self-destruct as a child of privilege who failed to launch.
But we would be wrong for after the decade had passed Paul says to Timothy, “Be sure to bring Mark with you because he will be so helpful to my ministry. Everyone else has deserted me.”
Mark spent over 10 years developing into someone who would be useful to those around him. He recorded Peter’s memories of Jesus and gave us a powerful gospel that we still read today. And he ministered to Paul at the end of his life.
Ten years. It’s important for us to not be so impatient. It’s important for me to not be so impatient. I’ve said it many times before, but we tend to measure time in days, weeks, and months, and you measure it in years, decades and centuries. As a parent, as a son, as a husband, and a parishioner, and as a friend, it is important for me to give you (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the time you need to do your work in all of us, including me.
What happened? In those silent 10 years, Mark had attached himself to the sole person in his life – Simon Peter – who could relate completely to one who had deserted and failed his friends while betraying others. In Peter, he finds a father, a fellow sinner and a friend.
Peter doesn’t lead Mark and the rest of us through how powerful he is. Instead, he leads us and teaches us through his flaws and failures. In the same way, I can’t teach people through the stuff I do well. Oh sure, I can pass on some advice, but my real impact comes when I share my weaknesses and failings. In this case, I don’t think Mark would have benefitted as much from sitting at John’s feet for 10 years–or even Paul’s. No, I’m sure he learned resilience, repentance, and rebounding from regret through your grace from Peter.
What did Mark discover as he wrote the Gospel? He discovered himself and a Jesus that changed his life. Peter’s flaws were the same as his and Peter’s Christ became his. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School. He was the undomesticated Lion of Judah.”
I think Mark also learned some humility from Peter. I’ve always noticed that the stories we get where Peter is the most humiliated in front of Jesus are told to us in Mark. Peter doesn’t pull any punches when telling Mark his own story, and, in return, Mark communicates to us a unique version of Jesus. Lest I sound judgmental about the other gospels, I’ll say that we get the worst stories about John from his gospel as well. But in this case, it’s the example that Peter is setting for Mark that I think is important.
Sent by Peter to Egypt as the first bishop of the Coptic church, Mark – the former coward, deserter and weakling – is horribly martyred by being dragged for two days behind a horse until his skin is torn off his body.
So that’s how it ends? A horrible death for someone who left us so much in Mark’s Gospel? A comfort to Paul in prison? Well, not exactly. There is also the legacy of transformation and courage. So much so that we get this:
Many years later it is said that the founders of the city of Venice in Italy, wanted a saint’s relics, so they stole his head and took it back to Venice. There it becomes the precious relic of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world – St. Mark’s. The deserter becomes the patron saint of Venice.
But here is what I love. Something he would have never believed and we could have not predicted when we first met him. The early church gave him the symbol of the winged lion, and it is the flag of Venice still today. It is a symbol of power, authority and strength. The Lion holds the scroll because he is the author of the earliest gospel and the inscription reads, “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” Peace and courage – not fear and running away. It is the same boy who fled and then became a lion – just like the Lion of Judah in his gospel.
Father, help me to see people for more than their failings. Help me to see them with your eyes. And help me to see myself for more than just my own failings. Help me to be patient and faithful as I strive to simply worship and serve you.
In Jesus’s name I pray,