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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

The Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist

April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist. Most of us are familiar with him as the author of one of the gospels. For many of us, we are so focused on the details concerning the life of Jesus that we don’t think to consider the details concerning the life of the author. The fact that the Church sets before us the life of St. Mark for a feast day tells us that his life, and not only his gospel, are to be pondered in our pursuit of the Kingdom of God.   

saint mark

St. Mark, also known as John Mark, was the son of Mary of Jerusalem and the cousin of St. Barnabas (Acts 12:12, Colossians 4:10). Some scholars and theologians argue that Mark is the young man mentioned in this scene found only in Mark’s gospel: “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked” (Mark 14:51-52). It is believed that the Upper Room, the one used for the Last Supper, belonged to Mark’s mother.  

Mark journeyed with Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey but eventually departed from them in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). This departure would eventually cause a rift between Paul and Barnabas and result in their own separation for missionary activity, and in turn resulted in Barnabas and Mark journeying together to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).  Whatever caused the departure of Barnabas from Paul, it must have been resolved as Paul would eventually be on good terms with Mark during Paul's years in prison (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24).  

Besides Paul, Mark’s apostolic association is through the first pope, St. Peter. Peter mentions Mark as with him in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Bishop Papias of the next century would write that Mark was Peter’s interpreter or scribe. 

Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. -Papias Fragment 

What this means is that Mark’s gospel is tied to the apostolic witness and preaching of Peter. In some sense, we could say that Mark’s written gospel is Peter’s oral gospel, composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It seems that the gospel was likely written for gentile converts to Christianity (non-Jews). Given his connection to Peter in Rome, it is possible that its original composition had Roman Christians in mind. It rarely quotes the Old Testament, which his audience would not have known, and stops to explain certain traditions, rituals, and words unique to Judaism. It is the shortest of the four canonical gospels. 

Eusebius, who composed a Church History text in the early centuries of Christianity, also describes Mark as Peter’s student/disciple. He then relays to us one other detail concerning Mark. “And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria” (Church History II.16). As Bishop of Alexandria, he was martyred by the dragging of his body through the streets, mangling his body.  

If you have never read an entire gospel, St. Mark’s is a great one to begin with.  

Saint Mark, pray for us.  

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