Today is the Feast of St. Mark, celebrating one of the four Gospel writers. What do we know about him from the Bible?
The Evangelists Saint Mark and Saint Luke (detail) (1635)
The place we hear the most about him is in the Book of Acts. St. Luke generally refers to him in Acts as “John, also called Mark” — John is a Jewish name, while Mark (or Marcus) is a Roman name. It’s here, in the Book of Acts, that we learn that he’s the son of a prominent Jerusalem Christian named Mary (Acts 12:12). Mark’s family appears to be wealthy. His mother’s house is large enough to serve as the meeting place for many Christians, and when Peter arrives at it, he knocks on the door of the pylōn, which Strong’s defines as “a large gate: of a palace” or “the front part of a house, into which one enters through the gate, porch.” It’s Rhoda, a servant of Mary’s, who answers the door (Acts 12:13).
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)|
After the Resurrection, St. Peter comes to his mother’s house (Acts 12:12-19), as I mentioned above. Some time later, Mark joins St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their mission (Acts 12:25), and Acts 13:5 explains that he was there “to assist them.” However, in Pamphylia, he deserted them, and went back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). St. Mark gets back up from this third abandonment, but it causes some lingering damage, particularly to the relationship between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40):
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)|