A Lion’s Heart
Listen to “A Lion’s Heart” by Fred Smith
It wasn’t a simple disagreement but a showdown that resulted in both men, once fast friends, turning away from each other for the balance of their lives. Neither sees the other again over their bitter feelings about a young person one considered to be a coward while the other not only defended but fought to give a second chance.
Who was this young man causing the permanent split between Paul and Barnabas – two heroes of the early church? He has an interesting story—especially for early failures and late bloomers.
As a young man John Mark was surrounded by the apostles and leaders of the movement coming to his home. His mother, Mary, was wealthy and influential. With access to relationships and rare advantages a young man could not have had more exposure to courage, miracles, heroic figures and the first days of the greatest events in the history of the world.
Still, Mark was weak and afraid. He ran naked from Gethsemane. He quit Paul and Barnabas when conditions were difficult. He disappointed the ones who took a risk on him.
After the rancorous split, Paul returned to visit the churches he and Barnabas had planted while Barnabas was later stoned to death in Cyprus as a martyr. Here we lose track and know nothing of Mark for almost ten years. Given his pattern of running and quitting we would not expect much of him. He was a coddled and protected boy like so many who grow up with advantages and opportunities but cannot handle adversity. It would be logical to predict he would fade away and self-destruct as a child of privilege who failed to launch.
But we would be wrong for after the decade had passed Paul says to Timothy, “Be sure to bring Mark with you because he will be so helpful to my ministry. Everyone else has deserted me.”
What happened? In those silent 10 years, Mark had attached himself to the sole person in his life – Simon Peter – who could relate completely to one who had deserted and failed his friends while betraying others. In Peter, he finds a father, a fellow sinner and a friend. But something else happened. Mark began to write down Peter’s recollections of Jesus, and in doing so he was changed.
Malcolm Gladwell writes in “Late Bloomers” that they appear to be failures when they are young. “Late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren’t much good until late in their careers.”
As well, early failures need a patron – someone with the patience and empathy to stick with them. They need someone to see them through the long and difficult times when no one else believes in them. Early failures can only find their best work after trial and error.
Mark didn’t become good at something until later in life. His life looked more like a failure until he was almost 50. Mark needed a patron – someone who had the patience and empathy to believe in him. He needed someone to help him find his true work and give him a worthy task to accomplish.
What did Mark discover as he wrote the Gospel? He discovered himself and a Jesus that changed his life. Peter’s flaws were the same as his and Peter’s Christ became his. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School. He was the undomesticated Lion of Judah.”
Sent by Peter to Egypt as the first bishop of the Coptic church, Mark – the former coward, deserter and weakling – is horribly martyred by being dragged for two days behind a horse until his skin is torn off his body. Many years later it is said that the founders of the city of Venice in Italy, wanted a saint’s relics, so they stole his head and took it back to Venice. There it becomes the precious relic of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world – St. Mark’s. The deserter becomes the patron saint of Venice.
But here is what I love. Something he would have never believed and we could have not predicted when we first met him. The early church gave him the symbol of the winged lion, and it is the flag of Venice still today. It is a symbol of power, authority and strength. The Lion holds the scroll because he is the author of the earliest gospel and the inscription reads, “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” Peace and courage – not fear and running away. It is the same boy who fled and then became a lion – just like the Lion of Judah in his gospel.
Don’t ever count anyone out. God doesn’t. In Mark we can celebrate the redeeming of early mistakes, the forgiveness of failure, and God’s ability to give the young and spoiled the hearts of lions.
You can purchase “Where The Light Divides” here.