St. Mark, The Evangelist

St. Mark, the Evangelist. April 25

INTRODUCTION

Mark was originally a Jew from the tribe of Levi and later became a follower of Jesus. He is believed to be one among the 70 disciples of Jesus. Though he wrote the gospel, he was not one among the 12 apostles of Jesus. He is known in the New Testament as John Mark. John was his Hebrew name which means “God is gracious.” After receiving the Holy Spirit,  he was known by a Roman name, Mark. Mark means a hammer. Hammer has been used to strike the red hot metal to the desired shape. He used the gospel of Jesus as a hammer to shape the Christians.

Family Background

Mark was born of Jewish parents in a small village called Aberyatolos, in the region of Gyrene in Libya. Shortly after Mark’s birth, his parents Aristopolos and Mary migrated to Palestine because of the Barbarian attacks in their area. Mark received good education that made him well versed in different languages. That helped him in his ministry as a Latin interpreter for St. Peter and as the Evangelist. 

Mark’s parents were closely associated with Jesus and Peter. Mark’s father was a cousin of Peter’s wife. Mark’s mother was devoted to Jesus. They were a wealthy family with at least on maid servant, Rhoda (Acts 12:13) and with a two-storied house. They offered the upper room of their house for Jesus and his disciples to meet whenever they visited Jerusalem. Jesus and the early Christian community had used this upper room for Last Supper and prayer. The Holy Spirit came on the disciples in this upper room on the day of Pentecost. So, this became the first Christian house.

Encounter with Jesus

There is a tradition that Mark was one among the servants who filled the jars with water at the wedding in Cana where Jesus did his first miracle of changing water into wine. If that was true, Mark was a witness of the first miracle of Jesus (John 2:1–11).

Since Jesus and the disciples used to meet at the house of Mark when they visited Jerusalem, he had seen and listened to Jesus several times. It is believed that the Last Supper of Jesus was at his house because Mark’s mother Mary was devoted to Jesus and was hospitable to him and the disciples. In preparation for the Last Supper, the disciples asked Jesus: “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” Jesus sent two of his disciples saying: “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ (Mark 14:12-16). It is believed that the man who carried the jar of water was Mark and the master of the house was his father Aristopolos.

During the Last Supper, Mark had heard Jesus saying about the betrayal of him by Judas and his subsequent arrest. According to tradition, Mark followed Jesus and his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane watching what was happening. According to tradition, Mark was the young man who after witnessing the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot remained there while the apostles fled from the scene. He was “wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.” (Mark 14:51-52).

The early Christians assembled in his house at Jerusalem and they received the Holy Spirit in the upper room of the house (Acts 2:1-4). When the angel of the Lord released Peter from prison, he went to this house (Acts 12:12).

Conversion of his father

Mark was instrumental in the conversion of his father, Aristopolos. While both of them went for  a walk, they came across a lion and lioness. Finding no way to escape, Aristopolos advised his son to flee, offering himself to be a victim for the lions. He said, since Mark is young, he should live. Mark instead of allowing his father to die, invoked the help of Christ to save them. Instantly the lions died according to one tradition, or left them without harm according to another tradition. This made such a great impact on Aristopolos that he accepted Jesus as his savior and got baptized.

Companion of Paul and Barnabas

Mark became an active member of the first Christian community. He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary trip (Acts 12:25). Mark (John) left Paul at Perga in Pamphylia during Paul’s missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem for some unknown reason (Acts 13:13). He was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10) and traveled with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:9). Paul was displeased with Mark since he did not continue the missionary journey with him. Barnabas also had to separate from Paul to help Mark in his journey to Cyprus. Paul had to go with Silas (Acts 15:36-40). While in prison in Rome, Paul mentioned about Mark as his co-worker for the kingdom of God, and a comfort for him (Col. 4:10-11). In his letter to Timothy, Paul asked him to bring Mark along with him because he was helpful for his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul sent his greeting from prison to Mark along with others (Philemon 1:24).

Assistant of St. Peter

Mark was a missionary companion of Peter who called him his "son" (1 Peter 5:13). That shows the intimacy Peter had for Mark. It is believed that Mark’s father was related to Peter’s wife. When Mark’s dear father, who was also a Christian convert died, Peter had adapted Mark as his son. Another assumption is that Peter might have baptized Mark and so he became his spiritual son. Mark became a companion and assistant to Peter. While preaching the gospel in Rome, Mark helped Peter as a translator because Mark knew Latin and Peter did not.

Evangelist

Since Peter was getting old and his life was in danger because of Christian persecution in Rome under the leadership of Emperor Nero, the early Christian community might have asked Mark to write down the content of Peter’s preaching for them and for the future generations. That was how Mark initiated to document many events and teachings of Jesus, though Mark was not witness of many of them. Because of the great influence and probable guidance of Peter, Mark’s gospel is also known as Peter’s gospel.

Mark’s was the first gospel to be written. And his is the shortest of the four gospels. Mark gave importance to what Jesus did than what he said. He presents more miracles and less parables than other Evangelists. Mark’s writings helped Matthew and Luke to write their Gospels with additional materials especially the teachings of Jesus. They followed the same structure of Mark.

Mark presents the gospel of Jesus from preaching of John the Baptist to the ascension of Jesus. He gives a detailed description of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The picture of the suffering Son of Man with his triumph over the cross through his resurrection and ascension was helpful for the early church that was facing severe persecution during the reign of Emperor Nero. So, Mark’s gospel empowered the early Christians to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of persecutions (Mark 13:9–13).

The structural format of Mark’s gospel can be seen as Jesus’ journey from the lowest point of the earth, Jordan to Galilee for his public ministry. After that, he went with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi where he assured that his disciples knew him as the Messiah. From there he went to Jerusalem to fulfill his role of Messiah through his self-sacrifice. The culmination was the resurrection of Jesus. Mark’s gospel was written for the gentile Christians shortly before 70 A.D. in Rome before the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army.

Evangelization of Mark

Though Mark was a companion of Paul, Barnabas and Peter, he also established churches in various places including Venice, Aquila, Lebanon, and Alexandria.  The Venetians venerate St. Mark as the founder of their church. They have a Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. He is the founder of the Church in Egypt and became the bishop of Alexandria. He started his ministry in Alexandria around AD 48.  The Coptic Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and the Coptic Catholic Church claim their origin from St. Mark.

Mark started a Theological University in Alexandria which developed as the center of Christian learning and culture for the next few centuries.

Martyrdom

Mark was martyred around April 25, 68 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. Pagans of Serapis (Greek Egyptian god) tied him to a horse's tail and dragged him through the streets of Bokalia, in  Alexandria until his body was torn to pieces. His head is kept at St. Mark’s church in Alexandria, and parts of his relics are kept in St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo. The rest of his relics were taken to San Marco Cathedral in Venice, Italy in 828 by two Venetian merchants. St. Mark’s feast is celebrated on April 25th.

Mark’s symbol is a winged lion. He starts his Gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist who was “A voice of one crying out in the desert” (Mark 1:3). John’s preaching was similar to the roaring of a lion. Lion is considered as the king of the jungle. Jesus was born as the king in the tribe of Judah that also has lion as its symbol. Mark’s gospel teaches us the royalty of Jesus who established the kingdom of God. Mark also had saved his life and his father’s life from the possible attack of two lions through his firm faith and prayer to Jesus. These all might have influence in selecting a winged lion as his symbol. The wing stands for Jesus the lion who flies down from heaven. So the winged lion represents Jesus, whom Mark introduced through his gospel.

MESSAGE

1. The devotion of Mary, Mark’s mother, towards Jesus led to Mark’s conversion as a follower of Jesus. Mark offered his life for Jesus, documented his gospel, established many churches and a Christian School in Alexandria, and became instrumental in the conversion of his father and many early Christians. Devoted parents can lead their children to Jesus, the Way to the Father.

2. Jesus rewarded the hospitality of John Mark’s mother, Mary and her family. They were saved and are remembered in the history. Their upper room has become a pilgrim center. Any favor for Jesus and his missionary work will be rewarded. Let us serve Jesus, his church and the representatives of Jesus.

3. Mark might have been a witness at the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus and his discourses to the apostles. He might have been touched by the humility and love of Jesus. Mark served the apostles Paul and Peter as their companions and assistants. Let us also be at the service of the Lord and his representatives with a humble and loving heart.

4. Mark was witness of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the response of Jesus to Judas. He also saw how Jesus reacted to Peter and Malchus when Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus. Mark had noticed the submission of Jesus to the soldiers without any fear. All these had great impact in Mark to imitate Jesus in his life and offer his life for Jesus. Let us learn from the life of Jesus and imitate him rather than following our natural instincts for counter attack.

5. Mark offered all he had for Jesus. His made use of his time, energy, education and proficiency in various languages for translating Peter’s preaching, for writing the gospel, for preaching and establishing churches in various places, and for establishing a Theological University in Alexandria. He endured the highly painful martyrdom because of his firm faith in Jesus and hope of the eternal reward Jesus had promised. Let us offer our life and all we have for Jesus and the mission God has entrusted to us in our situation.

6. Mark’s name means hammer. He became the hammer of Jesus to shape the spirituality of many people. Let us also submit ourselves as a hammer for Jesus to shape those around us.

7. Mark’s symbol is a winged lion. Though Mark was a humble servant of God, he introduced Jesus, the divine king who saves, protects, and rules the world for ever. Let us trust in the divine strength of Jesus, our redeemer and king.