Saint Mark, writer of the Gospel and first bishop of Alexandria, was the missionary companion and amanuensis of Saint Peter, the first pope. The third-century theologian Saint Hippolytus (and repentant anti-Pope) claims that he was one of the seventy disciples sent forth by Christ, meeting up with Saint Paul (he is likely the ‘John Mark’ mentioned in Acts), before joining Saint Peter. Tradition also has him as the ‘young man’, described in his own Gospel, who watched the tragic events in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ‘ran away naked’ when the authorities tried to arrest him also, but grabbed only his garment (signifying in a vivid way his detachment from material things – for some have poverty, like celibacy, thrust upon them).
Saint Mark, after a few years writing down Peter’s sermons (which comprised the basis for his Gospel), in the year 43 went to Alexandria, thereby founding the Church in Africa, before, as one tradition has it, his martyrdom by the populace by being dragged through the streets, around the time of Saint Peter’s own witness (68 A.D.).
Saint Mark’s Gospel seems written in a hurry, like the young man who ran away, and as befits a treatise composed in the tense situation in the nascent Roman Church, where the Christians, who had yet even to be called Christians, faced the imminent threat of persecution and martyrdom under the demonic regime of Nero. The Greek adverb eutheos, ‘immediately’, ‘right away’, occurs forty-one times in this shortest of the Gospels. But this term can also mean ‘fitting’, or ‘well-placed’. All in all, it seems, well, fitting for this Gospel composed with the help of the first Vicar of Christ, whose mission was to found the Church that would govern all the Churches: As comes across in the very first pages of Acts, the indecisive, wavering Peter had now become courageous, bold, sure, swift and to the point.
Saint Peter urges in today’s first reading that we must ‘clothe ourselves with humility’: As Peter did the work of Christ, so Mark did the work of Peter, until he was called to his own work and mission. Eventually, like Christ said of the Fisherman, Mark was led where, at one level, ‘he would rather not have gone’, but where he knew God was calling him, and which led to the foundation of the Church, and the evangelist’s and martyr’s own eternal reward and glory.
We too should strive to do God’s will – once it is clear to us – eutheos, without hesitation, with confidence, and with faith that He will in the end make all things well.
Saint Mark, ora pro nobis!