Smoke from burning wicks hung low in the room creating a not unpleasant odor for the celebration going on beneath the candlelight.
Moonlight had cast its beams over Genessaret's wavelets and waned, then waxed its silver path again since the tragic execution of John the Baptist. Grief still haunted our hearts when thoughts of his lonely vigil in the dungeons of Herod assaulted the mind. It struck me as a terrible irony that this man who had successfully resisted sensual temptation had been so cruelly slain by it.
The disciples had returned after being away for two months preaching, teaching and being a considerable nuisance, as Jesus had instructed them. An excited, charged ambiance reflected the inordinate joy in the heart of each man. Especially Jesus. They made him laugh as they regaled him with stories of events that took place in their respective adventures. They seemed energized and, at the same time, exhausted. The celebration and the storytelling subsided into a quiet, satisfied silence. "You have done a wondrous thing, brothers. I am proud of you. You have worked long and hard, and it seems you had little comfort along the way. I think it's time for a holiday, what do you think? What do you think of taking a little time away in the mountains to relax and reflect on where we go from here? What do you say?"
"Just us?" asked James, "and you?"
"Yes, just us. I think we are all due." The men flushed with pleasure at the thought of some quiet time away with Jesus alone. What a time of refreshment that would be! As much as they were energized by ministry, the enormous needs of the flocks of people were exhausting. Sometimes it seemed there was little time even to eat. So Jesus took them by boat from Tiberias due North, to a remote place he knew near the village of Bethsaida.
The solace they sought, however, would prove elusive. When they arrived at the place where they were supposed to be alone, a place with rolling green hills, springs and trees, they were greeted by an awesome throng of people. How had they known? How had they deduced where Jesus and his men would disembark? How had they even known that he and his disciples were coming by boat from Tiberias?
Among them were many who were sick and infirm, brought there by caring friends and relatives. They looked at Jesus and the rest of us with anticipation, hoping, praying that they would be noticed; that somehow, they might find a way to be healed of the misery they had endured for most of their lives.
Jesus was, as usual, deeply moved. What a sight they made! Like wandering sheep without a shepherd. God help them! The tiredness forgotten, he welcomed them with compassion and began to speak to them of the Father's love and the special peace of knowing him. As Jesus moved among the crowd, touching this person and that, he healed each one. It was a beautiful thing to watch. The air seemed charged with immense power. Whatever our expectations of solitude and retreat, we were once again invigorated. So we, too, moved among the crowd, encouraging, touching, healing and blessing. Have you any notion of what it is like to see leprous lesions yield fresh, new tender skin with the touch of your hand? The smile on a child's face as a cleft palate closes and heals? The moment was one of magic and enchantment in that remote part of the mountains around Galilee alone with Jesus--and thousands of people.
Then I saw him. He could have easily been mistaken for anyone in the crowd of nameless faces, yet he was singular, set apart. A young man, maybe eighteen, perhaps younger, yet he had a countenance about him that stood out from the rest, a bearing that marked him as a person of consequence, eyes of intelligence and inquiry. I might have passed on, thinking little of the moment, except that his eyes followed me and I could not help but return his gaze, however uncomfortable it felt. Introduction, it seemed, was inevitable.
I stepped over to where he stood. "I am Joseph," I ventured, "often of late, called Justus." I held out my hand in greeting.
"I am John, son of Mary. I am often called Mark." How odd, I thought, that he would refer to himself as the son of his mother, rather than his father. Perhaps there was intrigue to this.
"What brings you here today, young John Mark?"
"I wish to inquire of the Master, the Lord, our Messiah." Lord? Messiah? How could he know this? Certainly the rumor mill had been at work concerning Jesus, but this young man seemed so certain, so sure.
"What, may I ask, is the nature of your inquiry?"
"I was among those in the synagogue in Tiberias. I came by foot to this place."
"Did you know that we were coming here?"
"Yes. I heard it mentioned before you embarked." I wondered who could have mentioned it. Even I did not know where we were going when we stepped into the boat. I was about to ask who had told him of our destination when he said, "I spoke to others of your arrival here, hence this great assembly." Fascinating! We could not have hired someone who would have provoked a crowd like this.
"Come," I said, "I will introduce you to Jesus." When the boy stepped before Jesus he knelt on one knee and lowered his head.
"Gentle Rabbi, my name is . . ."
"I know who you are, my son." The young man raised his head and looked into the face of his Master. Jesus placed his hand on the boy's head. "Stand, John Mark. You are well-named, for you shall be my warrior of grace." The boy's face flushed with pleasure. "You are young, but like David before Goliath, you shall conquer. You shall be a right arm for the Father."
This seemed a strange prophecy for such a youth, yet I did not doubt it for a heartbeat. Jesus could see in this young man a greatness that others missed. It made me wonder if he sees the same in me or in others. No one knows the steps God plans for him. One may plan, but one cannot determine what God has planned, or where his steps may be guided. This boy, however complimented he felt at Jesus' praise and prophecy, could not have known what lay ahead for him.
That he would become the traveling companion of Barnabas, Paul, Luke and the others; that his mother's home would become the center of the church in Jerusalem; that Peter would be directed to that home upon his angelic release from prison, and that he would put to pen the life and ministry of Jesus were, to his mind, not a part of this moment. He was just a boy. The Master, before whom he stood, knew and with that knowledge, blessed him. Though he could not know it now, his life and work would stand unique and apart from Matthew, Luke and John, and even Paul. The latter was in serious error regarding this boy as he himself, later in his life, found out.
"Now go, John Mark, and let life be your teacher. Learn from your experiences and do not allow your time to be unfocused or disengaged. You are becoming a man of great destiny." Jesus embraced him. "Now be off with you."
The boy backed away, caught somewhere between the great joy imparted by Jesus' words and his intense desire to stay with us. His face contorted with joy and disappointment, he turned and strode away. We watched for a moment. He stopped, turned and looked back at Jesus. His face then creased with a broad grin, and jumping into the air and pumping his fist toward the sky he shouted, "Hallelujah!" Then amongst infectious laughter, he disappeared into the crowd.
Now, many years later, it is reported that John Mark is in Egypt. Alexandria, I believe.