St. Mark the Evangelist – Following the Lord’s Call Doesn’t Always Happen the Way Others Expect
St. Mark was a young man in the earliest days of the church and by the end of his life had played an important role in spreading the Good News of Jesus in Asia and North Africa. He even touches us as well, through the Gospel which bears his name.
We first hear of Mark in the Acts of the Apostles on the day Peter was released miraculously from prison. Peter returned in the night to the home of Mark’s mother, a gathering place of the community in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).
Mark may have been the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested, but the young man is not named, so we don’t know for sure (Mark 14:50-52).
Later we hear of Mark traveling with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Early in that journey, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No explanation is given for his departure from the mission. Paul was very unhappy about it and later refused to take Mark along on his second journey. As a result, Barnabas did not travel with Paul on the second trip, going instead with Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).
Mark spent many years with Peter. He is mentioned in various contexts in later chapters of Acts and in the first letter of Peter, always in terms of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.
The thing that really strikes me about Mark, though, is that he didn’t follow the path that had originally been set for him – that first journey with Paul and Barnabas. Something was not right. He left, despite the knowledge that the older adults in the community might not understand and be angry with him, thinking him a failure or a quitter. He returned home to Jerusalem.
If he had not followed that sense (or quiet voice) that told him that going with Paul and Barnabas might be the wrong thing for him to do, it’s entirely possible that Mark would not have been the one to accompany Peter in his work and journeys. The Gospel According to Mark might never have been written. It is generally understood to be the one that tells the story of Jesus based more on the memories of St. Peter. It was most probably the first of the Gospels written, maybe even before 70 A.D. Our understanding of how the early Christians had experienced the life, death and resurrection of Jesus would be different.
As an older adult now, seeing young people struggling to find their way in faith, to find the Lord’s path for them (regardless of how they phrase it), I find great comfort in the story of Mark. It’s OK to change course on one’s life journey, to try one path, find it’s not quite the right one, and move to another one. It’s OK not to follow the career for which one studied – or the one chosen by someone else. It’s OK to ask embarassing questions of leaders in our community. It’s OK to insist on justice and compassion. It’s not only OK, it’s essential to listen to the quiet voice and follow the Lord as He calls each one of us. We are all richer for it.