c. First Century
Feast: Liturgical Color: Red
John’s Gospel gives us this brief post Resurrection scene: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat…” (Jn 21:3.) The flock followed where Peter led. How easily St. Peter moves to the fore in the Acts of the Apostles. How effortlessly he speaks for the entire community of Faith. He even leaves the running of the Church in Jerusalem to St. James. St. Peter is not bound to one city or community, but drawn towards the widest horizon of evangelization as head of the Church in the capital of the world—Rome. Traitor Peter becomes Pope Peter.
Peter was, of course, a simple fisherman. It is more interesting to note that he did not remain a simple fisherman. He grew. He matured. He led. And leaders don’t have followers as much as joiners. St. Mark, whom we commemorate today, was one of the most significant of the many joiners who uprooted themselves to join Peter in his adventure of founding the Church. Mark left his homeland in Palestine to follow, first, St. Paul, and later, St. Peter. Mark sailed dangerous seas in primitive boats. He walked long stretches through desolate lands. He tried to convince hardened pagans and skeptical Romans that the Gospel message was true. The Acts of the Apostles, the letters of St. Paul, and the First Letter of St. Peter all put dots on the broader map of Mark’s life with, however, many blank spaces in between. Mark is traveling with Paul at this point in Asia Minor, then he’s with Barnabas on a boat over here, then he disappears for a number of years. The scattered evidence ends, however, with clear testimony that Mark joined Peter in Rome. In Peter’s first letter, written from the city of his death to the Church in Asia Minor, Pope Peter sends greetings on Mark’s behalf, and refers to him as “my son”(1 Peter 5:13).
St. Mark is, of course, best known as the author of a Gospel. Like St. Luke and St. Paul, he was not one of the Twelve Apostles and so likely never met Jesus Christ in person. Scholars believe that the Gospel of St. Mark relates the experiences of St. Peter, Mark’s mentor. Each Gospel has its own unique sources, emphases, and audiences. Mark writes for non Jews who would be impressed by Christ’s miracles more than his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. So in Mark’s Gospel are found certain colorful details that suggest the writer was relating the words of an eye-witness. For example, in Mark 5:41 Jesus enters the home of a synagogue leader whose daughter lay dead. Christ says to her: “Talitha koum.” Mark then tells the reader what “Talitha koum” means, presumably because his readers did not speak Aramaic. No other Gospel includes this touching detail of the untranslated words coming from the mouth of Christ that day. Mark also places other Aramaic words on Christ’s lips: “Ephphatha,” “Abba,” and “Hosanna,” for example.
Peter was there when it happened. Peter heard the Lord speak. And Peter was getting old, or was in prison, or was threatened with death. The Gospel he had shared and repeated so many thousands of times had to be written down to send to others, to preserve the accuracy of the story, or to contradict counterfeit versions. And so the natural progression from oral to written history slowly occurred. The Gospel was a word before it was a book, and the word has primacy over the book. St. Mark the Evangelist preserved for all time the Word of God, Jesus Christ, by committing his words to writing, and by ensuring that the spoken, eye-witness accounts of Christ’s life did not just float away in the breeze. They needed to be enshrined, in ink, on papyrus, and they were. St. Mark accomplished his mission.
St. Mark, you were a friend of the Apostles and shared their commitment to spreading the faith. From your home in Heaven we ask you to strengthen all those who lack the courage to live the Gospel message in their own lives so they can witness it to others.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
ST. MARK was converted to the Faith by the Prince of the Apostles, whom he afterwards accompanied to Rome, acting there as his secretary or interpreter. When St. Peter was writing his first epistle to the churches of Asia, he affectionately joins with his own salutation that of his faithful companion, whom he calls “my son Mark.” The Roman people entreated St. Mark to put in writing for them the substance of St. Peter’s frequent discourses on Our Lord’s life. This the Evangelist did under the eye and with the express sanction of the apostle, and every page of his brief but graphic gospel so bore the impress of St. Peter’s character, that the Fathers used to name it “Peter’s Gospel” St. Mark was now sent to Egypt to found the Church of Alexandria. Here his disciples became the wonder of the world for their piety and asceticism, so that St. Jerome speaks of St. Mark as the father of the anchorites, who at a later time thronged the Egyptian deserts. Here, too, he set up the first Christian school, the fruitful mother of many illustrious doctors and bishops. After governing his see for many years, St. Mark was one day seized by the heathen, dragged by ropes over stones, and thrown into prison. On the morrow the torture was repeated, and having been consoled by a vision of angels and the voice of Jesus, St. Mark went to his reward.
It is to St. Mark that we owe the many slight touches which often give such vivid coloring to the Gospel scenes, and help us to picture to ourselves the very gestures and looks of our blessed Lord. It is he alone who notes that in the temptation Jesus was “with the beasts;” that He slept in the boat “on a pillow;” that He “embraced” the little children. He alone preserves for us the commanding words “Peace, be still!” by which the storm was quelled; or even the very sounds of His voice, the “Ephpheta” and “Talitha cumi,” by which the dumb were made to speak and the dead to rise. So, too, the “looking round about with anger,” and the “sighing deeply,” long treasured in the memory of the penitent apostle, who was himself converted by his Saviour’s look, are here recorded by his faithful interpreter.
Reflection.—Learn from St. Mark to keep the image of the Son of man ever before your mind, and to ponder every syllable which fell from His lips.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.