Saint Mark, Evangelist
By Fr. Nick
Very little is known about our hero for the day. It is generally agreed that he was probably a Levite and perhaps a scribe in the synagogue in Jerusalem, which would have given him occasion to know about the person and the actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Though it is unverifiable, there is ancient belief that he was of good wealth, perhaps the son of a Roman father.
There is a particular periscope that we find in the gospels of Matt.19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. The essence of the text tells us that a rich young man of considerable wealth approached, and throwing himself on his knees before Jesus asked: What must I do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus responded with an initial challenge: “Why do you call me good?” Was this man of the sect of Pharisees constantly challenging Jesus or perhaps alt least a scribe and member of the Sanhedrin? Was this young man laying a trap or a mockery for Jesus? We cannot know, but Jesus knew his heart! And this is true of all as well. We may assume to know the intentions of someone; but only Jesus knows the condition of the heart for real.
We will soon see that this young man is of extraordinary character, though not perfect, but who is? When Jesus reminds him of the obligation of keeping the commandments, the young man answers with bold courage: “Ever since I was a youth I obeyed them all.” Wow! How many of us would dare or will dare to answer like that when we come eye to eye with Jesus. Jesus then adds still another condition: Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. All three of the evangelists tell us that the young man went away sad for he had many possessions with which he was apparently not ready part.
Now I want to highlight the important point of this text. Only in the gospel of Mark do we find this phrase: “Jesus looked at him with love.” Such a reaction would have been the testimony of an eyewitness but Mark was not one of the disciples. Was it the reflection of a young man who later became a disciple and evangelist? Was this young man himself, Mark?
St. Mark’s gospel is short but many of his periscopes offer the occasion for reflecting on our own life experiences. I do not usually remember my dreams; they evaporate as quickly as I wake up; but one night I was standing before Jesus. I saw his eyes. I saw his wounds emanating light. I saw the judgment book. And I heard Him say: “Nick you are not ready.”
I asked about all the good deeds that I had done and all the Masses since I was a little kid. He answered: “They are in the book, everything is in the book. How many times have you walked by or driven by me and saw me hungry, homeless, freezing. I wanted to hide my head in shame.” As He looked at me it was not with judgment but mercy and love. And then he added: There is one thing that you must do for me; something only you can do. Do not waste time speculating. When it is time to happen you will be ready, and then we will meet again. That is a dream that was so vivid I will never forget it.
I would like to cite a second periscope from the gospel of Mark, which is not found in any of the other gospels. Mark describes a young man who is is hiding in the bushes, wrapped in a linen sheet, expensive material in those days, the material of which roman togas were made. This young man seems to be searching to know more about this Jesus. But when he is discovered and afraid of being apprehended he runs away naked because a bush or the foot of a soldier snagged his robe. Could this be the same young man in our previous example, who is now running afraid, yet at the same time magnetized to Jesus but just not yet ready? Was this eyewitness testimony of Mark’s reflection on the symbolic significance of “bearing all” abandoning everything for the sake of the poor? It is not an easy thing is it? Nor was it in the life of St. Mark or St. Francis or you or I. It seldom, if ever comes instantly!
But at sometime after the resurrection Mark was baptized perhaps by St. Peter. At his conversion, the Spirit prompted him to turn over all his possessions and become a disciple. Certainly this was not the end of anguish for Mark whom we know from the writings of St. Luke that he became a traveling companion of St. Paul on his first mission journey.
Though we know nothing of the details Paul chose to take Luke rather than Mark on his second mission. Mark in turn became the companion of St. Barnabas who may have been his cousin. Eventually Paul and Mark were reconciled and the young disciple accompanied Paul to Rome for his execution, since like Mark, he too had been raised in Judaism by his mother but had the benefit or a Roman father. Perhaps it was in Rome where Mark reunited with Peter where sharing their similar journeys from cowardice to courage. Mark’s mentoring from Peter, whether early in life or later, is without question the clay from which Mark formed his gospel.
Let me follow with this quote from Pope Benedict XVI in his inaugural Mass, “Are we perhaps not all afraid in some way to enter fully into our lives; if we open ourselves totally to Him?” If we are not afraid that He might take something away from us, then we lose absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free and beautiful. Only when we open wide the doors to life is the great potential of human existence revealed. Only in this relationship do we experience beauty and liberation and so, today with great strength and conviction on the basis of long experience of life, I am able say to you. Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred fold in return. Yes! Open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life.”
After the beautiful words of the Holy Father, perhaps I should end but I want to add this last note. Mark was ordained a priest and bishop. He was martyred in Alexandria before the end of the first century. His life was like that of a candle flame, he came to realize the more we share, the more we grow, but, if we do not share, then without air we suffocate. Like the candle flame we can only live by sharing at least if not abandoning all.