Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Tenacious Mark: thinker, evangelist

 Mark 13: 5-13 and Ephesians 4: 7-16

Today we celebrate the feast of St Mark's Day. But who was he?  Mark has long been a favourite saint of mine – for two reasons: first because he was the patron saint of the first parish in which I was made an incumbent – St Mark’s North End.  But secondly, I rather enjoy his gospel – because at only 16 chapters long, it’s the shortest of all the gospels – easily read in a single sitting – and the one least cluttered with theological dogma and dubious myths!

John Marcus,  as he was known is first mentioned in Chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles, where he is identified as a travelling companion of St Paul.  Later, according to church tradition, he became a disciple of St Peter when Peter was in Rome.  It has always been believed that Mark was essentially Peter's biographer - and that his Gospel is a writing down of stories about Jesus that were told by Peter.

He was a rather controversial figure.  He was the centre of quite a debate between Paul and Barnabus, leading to Paul and Barnabus separating and going in different directions in the work of the Gospel.  Later, according to tradition, Mark made a real pain of himself in the city of Alexandria - where his constant preaching and insistence that the citizens of Alexandria should turn away from their Greek gods led to him being martyred.  According to one of a number of traditions, he was attached to a horse and dragged through the streets until dead - but not before he had founded what is today called the Coptic Orthodox Church.  St Mark's bones - his 'relics' are said to reside in St Mark's Church in Venice.

Mark's traditional emblem that of a winged Lion.  A Lion was chosen because his Gospel speaks most eloquently of all the gospels about the royal divinity of Christ...and the lion has always been seen as a royal figure.  It is also said that the Lion was chosen because Mark's Gospel uniquely begins with the story of John the Baptist, who, like a distant lion was described as the voice crying the in the wilderness.

So what are the qualities of Mark that emerge from the little we know for sure about him?  First of all, I'd say, Mark was obviously a thinker.  He thought deeply about Jesus, and about what it meant to be his follower.  It’s always dangerous for people to use their God given minds to try to understand the ways of God.  The history of the church, and all its splits, is essentially a history of ideas.  People who use their minds will often find themselves at odds with people who prefer to approach God at a more instinctive level - or who are willing to simply accept what they've been taught, without thinking about it.

Secondly, Mark was obviously an evangelist.  The word 'evangelist' stems from a Greek word meaning 'good news'.  Mark passionately told people what God had accomplished through Jesus.  He was passionate enough to write a whole book about it - his Gospel.  He was passionate enough to spend years of his life travelling around the known world to tell people about it.  He was so passionate about it, that he ended up being silenced by the people of Alexandria who killed him - but he also succeeded in founding a church which still exists in very much the form that he founded it.

Again, this is a message for us.  Our Gospel reading this morning contained those warning words from Jesus, that "all men will hate you because of me" (Mark: 13:13). Telling people what they don't want to hear is never popular.  Taking a stand against the values of the world is always risky.  When we try to tell people that there’s another way, a better way of living, than by accumulating stuff, and promoting hatred, people don’t like it.  To such people the Gospel is a challenge - often a deeply unwelcome challenge.  The Gospel is good news to those who are being saved.  To others, its a nuisance and even a threat.

The last quality of St Mark which tends to shine through is his tenacity.  Here is a man who, once he had been convinced of the resurrection of Christ, dedicated his entire life to the service of Christ.  He kept on - travelling the length and breadth of his world - writing, teaching, preaching, goading, establishing the good news about Jesus wherever he went.

Mark's example encourages us to do the same.  Church, for us, is never about simply spending a couple of hours together on a Sunday or Thursday - and then forgetting all about God for the rest of the week.  The Church is the place where the people of God come together to celebrate what God is doing in our lives, to lift our eyes up from the day to day for a short while, to enjoy the fellowship of other people who have the same love for God.    But our primary task in coming together is to "become mature, attaining to the whole measure of Christ", as Paul says in our first reading for today.  Then, Paul goes on, "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ."   (Eph 4: 13-15)

The Church is the place from which we go out with the same tenacity as John Marcus.  To appropriate Winston Churchill - whose metaphor can so easily be turned to the task of the Gospel..."we will never surrender".   We will never surrender to the mediocrity of a consumer society.  We will never surrender to the lies of unrestrained capitalism, or the false promises of communism.  We will never stop declaring that the Kingdom of God is the only way of living which offers any real hope to humanity.  Like roaring lions in the desert wilderness, we will keep on speaking of the value of love, forgiveness, generosity and charity.  And at this Easter time, we will keep on telling the story of the Lord who died for us, but who was not cancelled by death – the Lord who lives again in us and through us, calling all humanity to himself.

For, as Mark would undoubtedly have declared:  Alleluia! Christ is risen!

No comments:

Post a Comment