Mark was a Levite who later became a follower of Jesus. Some believe that Mark was one among the 70 disciples of Jesus. Though he wrote the gospel, he was not one among the 12 apostles. Mark’s full name in the New Testament is John Mark. John was his Hebrew name, which means “God is gracious.” After receiving the Holy Spirit, people came to know him by his Roman name, Mark. Mark means a hammer. Hammer’s usage is to strike the red-hot metal to the desired shape. He used the gospel of Jesus as a hammer to shape the Christians.
Mark was born in a small village called Aberyatolos, in the region of Gyrene in Libya. Shortly after his birth, his parents Aristopolos and Mary migrated to Palestine because of the Barbarian attacks in their area. Mark received an excellent education that made him well versed in different languages. His language proficiency helped him in his ministry as a Latin interpreter for Saint Peter and to write the gospel.
Mark’s parents had a close affiliation with Jesus and Peter. His father was the cousin of Peter’s wife. Mark’s mother was a follower of Jesus. The family was wealthy with at least one maidservant, 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 prayer and the Last Supper. 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
According to tradition, Mark was one among the servants who filled the jars with water at the wedding in Cana where Jesus changed water to wine. If that is true, Mark was a witness of Jesus’ first miracle (Jn 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. Some believe that the Last Supper of Jesus was at Mark’s house because Mark’s mother Mary was Jesus’ follower and was hospitable to him and his disciples. To prepare for the Last Supper, the disciples asked Jesus: “Where would you have us go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” Jesus sent two disciples saying: “Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him to the house he enters and say to the owner, ‘The Master says: Where is the room where I may eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ (Mk 14:12-16). Some believe that the man who carried the water jar was Mark and the master of the house was his father Aristopolos.
During the Last Supper, Mark heard Jesus saying about his betrayal and subsequent arrest. According to the tradition, Mark followed Jesus and his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to watch what was happening there. He was the “young man” who remained with Jesus while the Apostles fled from the scene. “A young man wearing nothing but a linen cloth followed Jesus. As they took hold of him, he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked” (Mk 14:51-52).
The early Christians assembled in Mark’s 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 Mark’s father
Mark was instrumental in his father Aristopolos’ conversion. While both went for a walk, they came across a lion and lioness. Finding no way to escape, Aristo-polos advised his son to flee, willing to offer himself a prey 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. The lions died instantly according to one tradition or left them without harm according to another tradition. This made such a profound impact on Aristopolos that he accepted Jesus as his saviour 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 travelled with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:9). Mark displeased Paul because Mark discontinued the missionary journey with Paul. 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 comforter for him (Col 4:10-11). In his letter to Timothy, Paul asked him to bring Mark along with him because he was helpful in his ministry (2 Tim 4:11). Paul sent his greeting from prison to Mark along with others (Phlm 1:24).
Saint Peter’s Assistant
Mark was a missionary companion of Peter who called him his “son” (1 Pet 5:13). That shows the intimacy Peter had with Mark. Some believe that Mark’s father was a relative of Peter’s wife. When Mark’s dear father, who was also a Christian-convert died, Peter adopted 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.
Peter was getting old and his life was in danger because of Christian persecution in Rome under Emperor Nero. The early Christian community might have asked Mark to write Peter’s preaching for them and posterity. So, Mark documented many events and teachings of Jesus, though he was not a witness of many of them. Because of the major influence and probable guidance of Peter, some call Mark’s gospel as Peter’s gospel.
Mark’s was the first completed gospel. His is the shortest of the four gospels. Mark gave importance to what Jesus did than what he said. He presents more miracles and fewer parables than the 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’s gospel.
Mark begins his gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist and concludes it with the ascension of Jesus. He gives a detailed description of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The early church that was facing severe persecution during the reign of Emperor Nero found the picture of the suffering Son of Man and his triumph over the cross through his resurrection and ascension immensely inspirational. So, Mark’s gospel empowered the early Christians to remain faithful to Jesus during the persecution (Mk 13:9-13).
The structural format of Mark’s gospel is 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 himself that his disciples knew him as the Messiah. From there he went on to Jerusalem to fulfil his role of Messiah through his self-sacrifice. The culmination was Jesus’ resurrection. Mark wrote his gospel for the Gentile Christians before 70 AD in Rome before the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army.
Evangelization by 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 Saint Mark as the founder of their church. They have a Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice. He is the founder of the Church in Egypt and became the bishop of Alexandria. His ministry in Alexandria started around 48 AD. The Coptic Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and the Coptic Catholic Church claim their origin from Saint Mark. Mark started a Theological University in Alexandria, which developed as a centre of Christian learning and culture for the next few centuries.
Mark’s martyrdom was on 25 April 68 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. The 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 Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria, and parts of his relics are kept at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Two Venetian merchants took the rest of his relics to San Marco Cathedral in Venice, Italy, in 828. The church celebrates Saint Mark’s feast on 25 April.
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” (Mk 1:3). John’s preaching was like the roaring of a lion. The lion is the king of the jungle. Jesus was born in the tribe of Judah that also has the lion as its symbol. Mark’s gospel teaches us the royalty of Jesus who established the Kingdom of God. Mark also had saved his and his father’s life from the jaws of two lions through his firm faith and prayer to Jesus. All these might have influenced the selection of a winged lion as his symbol. The winged lion stands for Jesus, the lion who flies down from heaven. So, Mark introduced Jesus, the flying lion from heaven through his gospel.
1. Mark’s mother Mary’s devotion towards Jesus led to Mark’s conversion as a follower of Jesus. Mark offered his life for Jesus, documented his gospel and established many churches and a Christian School in Alexandria. He became instrumental in his father’s conversion and also that of 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 received salvation and also live on in history. Their upper room has become a pilgrim centre. Jesus rewards any favours we do for him and his missionary work. Let us serve Jesus, his church, and his representatives.
3. Since the Last Supper took place at Mark’s house, he might have witnessed Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and listened to his discourses to the Apostles. The humility and love of Jesus might have touched him. Mark served the Apostles Paul and Peter as their companion and assistant. Let us also be at the service of the Lord and his representatives with a humble and loving heart.
4. Mark was a witness of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and the response of Jesus to Judas. He also saw how Jesus reacted when Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus. Mark had noticed Jesus’s submission to the soldiers without the slightest trace of fear. All these had a significant impact on Mark to imitate Jesus in his life and offer his life for Jesus. Let us learn from Jesus’ life and imitate him rather than following our instinct for a counterattack.
5. Mark offered all he had for Jesus. He 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 founding 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 for 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 forever. Let us trust in the divine strength of Jesus, our redeemer and king.