First Healing — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:22-34

First Healing — The Tales and Adventures of John MarkThough the ship upon which I was meant to board would sail soon, I could not risk leaving the rooftop without being discovered.

The banging below in the home of the leper woman continued until at last the owner on whose roof I crouched stepped into the street. After the home’s owner called for quiet, a door slammed next door and men departed up the alley, cursing as they trod past.

My chance had come. I would make my way towards the waterfront and inquire as to which ship might soon be departing. But as I began to back down the roof’s ladder, I recalled a time when others crowded about on rooftops watching for the Teacher to pass by.

On that day Jesus had gone into the Capernaum and began to teach in the jewish synagogue. Because he taught as one who had authority and not as the teachers of the law, people found themselves amazed at how he opened the Scriptures.

While speaking, a man possessed by an unclean spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

At the time I thought it odd that filthy spirits knew Jesus to be the Father’s Son but the religious rulers did not.

“Be quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus commanded.

At once the spirit shook the man violently and with a shriek escaped. Where the spirit went, I do not know. But within moments the man was back in his right mind and as calm as though he’d never been tormented at all.

Many wondered aloud at what they had witnessed. “Is this a new teaching and with authority,” one asked. “Not even the Pharisees can cast out such spirits with simply a word,” another remarked.

News spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee and soon many came to be healed. Even Simon’s mother-in-law who was in bed with a fever, found herself healed by the Teacher’s touch. Once the fever left, she arose and began to wait on Jesus and his disciples.

By sunset the whole town had gathered at the door. People brought all the sick and demon-possessed to the home and the Teacher healed all, though because the demon spirits knew who he was, he forbade them speak of his glory.

All this I considered while in the distance a bell clanged three times.

I knew from our passage at the port of Sidon that once a ship’s bell tolls, her lines will soon be let go. If I were to make the ship and escape back home I needed to hurry.

Certain no one below was watching, I backed down the ladder. Once more I searched the narrow alley for any of the mob who might be loitering. Then easing around to the front, I softly rapped two times on the door, waited and then rapped three more times.

“You have returned,” the leper woman said. “If it is directions to your ship that you seek, you only need to go to the end of this alley and turn—”

I forced my way in and pushed the door shut behind.

She had placed the table back beside her mat, which was now tossed and missing some of its straw. In my haste to leave I’d left several of the roof tiles askew, but with the table and candle so far removed, the men had not noticed.

“If you are willing,” I said, “the Teacher can make you clean.”

With wet eyes reflecting the candles dancing light, she reached out her hands and clasped mine.

“I am willing,” she said softly.

With eyes closed I looked up. “Jesus, my Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, you alone are righteous. In you we put on our new self, which was created by the Father for this very purpose. We have died to our sins in order that we might live for righteousness. It is by your stripes that we are healed. Father, you did not send your Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Where there is righteousness, sin and sickness cannot remain. No one who is born of the Father will continue to sin, because his seed remains in them. They cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. For this reason with the power and authority of my Lord, I declare that Jesus has forgiven this woman of her sins. By the blood of Jesus, my sister, you are forgiven, healed and made whole.”

Her fingers grew strangely warm, but I only had a moment to consider this, for suddenly a clanging bell warned of a ship’s impending departure.

Without another word, I escaped into the alley, slipped around back, and fled into the narrow corridor that separated the homes. Only when I reached the end of the alley did I hear the woman’s cries of joy echoing in the street, “I’m healed! I’m healed!”

With haste I turned in the direction of the wharf and sprinted towards the smell of the sea.

A Fish Tale — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:16-20

A Fish TaleHad it not been for the lies spread by those guarding the tomb of the Teacher I might never have gone to sea with Saul and my cousin Barnabas. So I suppose this narrative I am attempting to put down on scroll must rightly begin with that fateful event the morning when my dear ima came hurrying through our door to tell me of the Great Deception.

“John! John Mark!” she shouted so loud I could well have heard her had I been in Galilee. “The chief priests have met with the elders and devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the guards who watched over the Teacher’s tomb. To any who ask, the guards are to say, ‘The disciples of this man Jesus came during the night and stole his body while we were asleep.'”

When I asked why those on the ruling council would act with such duplicity, she replied, “They fear that the rumors of the Teacher’s appearance after his death might lead to an ever greater following than when we walked freely among us.”

“But is alive,” I replied. “Some of our women said as much. Mary of Magdala swears she spoke with him. Even Simon and John testify that the Teacher’s body is not in the tomb.”

“Well I know,” Ima replied, “for I have heard the rumors. But remember how after John the Baptizer was put in prison, the Teacher traveled in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the Father and saying, ‘The time has come?’ That, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent. Believe the good news?’ This is that time. You must hurry and write what you heard and witnessed and what the Eleven claim to have seen.”

“Who am I to write such things? I am not even counted among the Eleven.”

“But you have witnessed some of his miracles. And has the Teacher not dined in our home? Did you not spend time with him in our upper room? Go now and recount what you witnessed. Tell of how the Teacher walked beside the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake.”

“If others would not believe his words when he was alive why will they believe my account now that the Teacher is gone?”

“Did you not tell me yourself that you heard John the Baptizer call to the crowds, ‘Look! The Lamb of God!’ If the prophet’s words are true, should not this good news be preserved?”

“That was nearly four years ago. John is now dead and the Teacher crucified.”

“Enough! Go! Find a safe place and begin to write all these things so that others will know his testimony is true, as are the words of the prophets that foretold of his coming.”

Without haste I hurried to gather my belongings that morning, and left for a place safe from the reach of Roman guards and those on the Council who felt threatened by the power of the Teacher’s words. Well that I did for only a short while after I departed my ima’s home, Simon and John were arrested by the Sanhedrin and placed in prison. Though released, the shock of their swift imprisonment left me concerned for my own safety. Away from Ima’s home and in solitude I began to make a careful accounting of all that I had seen and heard and learned from the Teacher.

Now once more I found myself fleeing for my life and seeking solitude. The events of the past few days, of my departure from Saul and Barnabas, carried the same fear and urgency as when I fled our home in Jerusalem.

Though a few blocks from the jail, we had stopped outside a home.

“Wait here,” the young woman said to me. “I will check to see if a follower of the Way lives inside.”

The riotous shouting of the crowd continued, though now many had begun to peel away, their lust for bloodshed waining. From the inscription above the door I judged the home to be one similar to Ima’s—a home for strangers in need of boarding.

The young woman glanced up the narrow alley, back, and down as if checking to make sure the mob had not followed. Satisfied that our route through the city had gone unnoticed, she knocked: two short raps.

From the other side of the door feet shuffled. A single knock came in reply.

Twice more she knocked, hesitated then rapped three more times. When the door opened, she pushed me inside said, “Lose no time. Wash and bind your wounds quickly. The owner will give you a fresh cloak.”

She pressed some coins into the outstretched palm, for the owner of the house remained behind the door.

“You will be directed to our ship,” she added. “She lies not far from here. Hurry, now. We haven’t much time. She sails within the hour. I will wait for you by the boarding ladder, but if you are not there, we will cast off without you.”

Once inside, I found myself trapped in nearly total darkness. Only a small candle flickered.

“Tell me of the first time,” my host said.

At first I did not understand the old woman’s request.

“When you first heard the Teacher’s voice. Was it deep, loud? Or like mine, weak and tired from years of hard living?”

“I… ”

With a heavy sigh she settled onto hard packed dirt flooring. As my eyes began to adjust to the room’s dim lighting I noticed its sparse furnishings. Straw mat. Wash basin. Towel. A folded cloak.

“I receive so few guests,” she said, motioning towards the basin of water. “None who who believe the rumors of his appearing after his death. Please, tell me all you know of this man Jesus.”

In the brief moment when the candle’s light fell across her hand and wrist I caught sight of the dark splotches, her deformed fingers.

Leprosy! The young woman brought me into the home of a leaper. How dare she!

Perhaps sensing my hesitation, the old woman scooted back into the corner of the room, moving as far away from the mat and basin as possible.

Dropping to my knees I gathered water in my hands and washed blood from my face. This I did until my dim reflection became the shade of rose peddles in full bloom. Instantly memories of the Teacher came flooding back: his baptism in the Jordan River. His face bloodied by soldiers’ fists. Water mixed with blood spilling out when the spear pierced his side.

“When the Teacher came up from the water of his baptism,” I said, “he turned around and saw Andrew, the brother of Simon. He asked, ‘What do you want?'”

I splashed more, until at last the basin of water became so polluted with my blood as to be of little use. With a towel I dried my face.

“‘Teacher,’ Andrew had replied. ‘Where are you staying?'”

“‘Come with me and you will see.’ the Teacher replied.”

“That was the first time I heard him—the first time I heard his voice. It was that of a grown man, deep and rich. Yet his tone always seemed to be gentle. Seldom did he raise his voice. And even when he did, it was to rebuke those who refused to offer justice and mercy.”

With the sodden towel pink from blood I bathed my wrists and ankles, wincing in pain as I did so.

“After the his baptism,” I said, “Andrew and another disciple spent the day with the Teacher. The first thing Andrew did afterwards was to find his brother Simon. ‘We have found the Messiah, that is the Christ,’ Andrew told his brother. He then brought Simon to the Teacher.”

The cloak provided for me was made for a woman and too small, but I had little choice. I could not go about in the rags I now wore. Stepping behind the changing screen I undressed.

“Some days later when the Teacher found Simon and Andrew fishing by the Sea of Galilee, he called to the pair and commanded them to put out into deep water. To let down theirs nets for a catch.”

I slipped on the cloak and cinched its belt. “Might you have an extra pair of sandals?” I asked.

“By the door. They were my husbands. You are welcomed to them.”

Stepping from the screen, I hurried to the door. Though too narrow for me feet, I found the sandals’ length sufficient.

“‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything,'” Simon replied. “‘But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. The pair signaled to their partners, James and John, in the other boat to come and help. Soon both boats began to sink. At this, Simon fell at the Teacher’s  feet and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!'”

The woman leaned out from the darkened corner, allowing the candle to fall across her face.

“Were the Teacher here now rather than you, I would say as this man Simon said: ‘Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful woman!”

“As we all are,” I said. “We feel no shame in the presence of the Teacher. Only love and compassion. This is the reason he came. To remove our sin. To make us clean. To heal us. And now because of your kindness I am clean enough to be seen in public.”

“Oh, that I wish that I could be made clean.”

“You only need to ask the Teacher.”

“But he is not here. There is only you.”

Taking a deep breath I approached her. My boldness sent the old woman scurrying back into her corner of blackness.

“If you wish to be made clean, made whole, to have your sins forgiven, you need only ask.”

“But I am asking. I am pleading,” she said.

There came a hard bang on the door.

The old woman jerked her hands from mine. “You must go,” she whispered to me. “Through the ceiling and out. You can reach my neighbor’s roof from mine, but careful they do not see you stepping over.”

“But what of you? I cannot leave without first giving you the gift of Jesus.”

Pushing me away, she called to the men banging on the door, “I am unclean! What is it you wish?” A final time she whispered to me, “Go now or we shall both die this evening.”

Standing atop the lone piece of wood furniture, a small table, I carefully removed four tiles, pulled myself up by roof beams, and climbed out. Kneeling, I quietly replaced the tiles, checked to make certain no one stood in the gap below, and crawled onto the neighbor’s roof.

Once more the shame at my cowardliness proved more than I could bear. Safely away, I cowered in a corner beneath a starlit night and sobbed.

 

Trouble Outside the Jail — The Tales and Adventures of John Mark

Mark 1:14

Stoned to DeathThe trouble outside the jail began a little after my final cup of water and bread for the evening.

Without access to a window that looked onto the street, I could not tell from which direction the men approached, but soon I became aware that a mob had gathered to protest my presence in the jail.  The chant, “give us the Hebrew, give us the Hebrew,” soon swelled into a chorus that shook dust from rafters onto my head.

Appearing in the darkened doorway, the jailer ordered me to sit up. “For the safety of the others you must be moved.”

Other than the one man from days earlier, I had not seen another soul. I am sure the surprised look on my face must have shown.

“Come now, on your feet!”

Of course I could not stand. At least not without help. For so long I had lain on my back with wrists and ankles in stocks, that my muscles had grown weak.

Leaning on the jailer for support, I said to him, “Perhaps this is how my Lord felt. For forty days he went without food and water.” When the jailer did not react to my comment, I added, “Though during his testing, my Lord was allowed to move about.”

“Cease your complaining and move along. The warden is anxious to get this business over with.”

Once in the hallway, the jailor waved his torch back and forth as if checking for others.

When he seemed satisfied that we were alone, he hustled me along, commenting, “Forty days be long time to go without seeing a friendly face or even a stranger. Perhaps this lord of yours no longer cares if you live or die.”

Holding onto his elbow for support, I shuffled towards the darkened door. I would not have realized the extent to which the stocks had gouged my skin if not for the warmth trickling onto my toes. Only then did I realize how much I was bleeding.

“The  story of Joseph is a testimony to my Father’s faithfulness.” The sound of my raspy words left me stunned. “I find there can be a great distance between what we know of the Father and what we believe about him.”

“Less talking,” the jailer replied, “and more walking.”

At the end of the hallway, fists beat against the door. Only then did I realize the peril I faced. The jailer meant to release me to the mob.

“Well I know my Lord can save me from this trial,” I said.

With his hand shaking, the jailer struggled to insert his key into the warded lock. “Pray he shall, lad. Pray he shall.” He shoved the door opened and stepped back.

Before I could raise my hand, a stone smashed against my cheek with such force it spun me around. A hard shove in my back and the jailer thrust me into the crowd, closing the door behind.

I had watched from a distance when they stoned Stephen. Though Paul and I spoke of the event only once, we both agreed the barbarous action of crowds filled with righteous indignation is a thing to be feared at all costs. And yet before such a mob I now found myself.

Dropping to my knees, I covered my head as best I could. While I prayed in tongues of the Spirit I heard the voice of my Lord comforting me.

Moses remained isolated on a mountain for forty days. As you hear the mob’s jeering now, so my Father heard those stick-neck people chant, ‘Come! Let us make gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’”

Lord, will Paul and Barnabas say this of me?  Will they wonder what has become of the lad called John Mark?

Forty days is the time I have allotted for the testing of your soul. Forty days is the time I have allotted for the cleansing of all impurities you yet hold in your heart. Forty days is the time I required to humble you for the work I will require of you. Your time of redemption is complete. Now you will walk through death as I have.”

On bloody knees, the tops of my feet stomped onto shards of rock and shell, my Lord’s Spirit spoke to mine.

When my Father destroyed the earth with water, he caused rain to fall for forty days and forty nights. Only those who carried the words of my Father in their hearts survived.

When my Father sent twelve spies into the Promised Land, he provided for their protection for forty days and nights. Even those who doubted in his goodness received this blessing.

Goliath taunted my Father’s people for forty days before he moved in the heart of David to rise up and slay that wicked giant. 

When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he traveled forty days and forty nights before arriving at Mount Horeb. During all this time my Father cared for Elijah and those who welcomed him.

And after I rose from the grave, I remained with my disciples for forty days before ascending into heaven.

My father chose forty days to purify by water, to remove all the ungodly from his presence, to confirm his promise of land to his people, to liberate all men and women from death and the curse of sin, and test you to see if faith really lives in your heart. Shall I now show you how much you are going to suffer for my name?

I… don’t know, Lord. Already I sense I have passed from this life to the next. That though I am beaten down, your merciful hand has prevented my pain from becoming more than I can bear.

What needs to be made pure? What do you need to cast off? In your trials what brings you joy? Is there a giant you need to face? Are you trusting more in others than in me? Is my Spirit moving you into a new role? Think on these things, son. Think on these.

And so it was as I lay bloodied and broken, my life ebbing, strong arms slipped under my ribs and thighs, lifted me from the pile of rocks, and carried me away.

“I have found you a ship,” a sweet voice whispered. “But we must hurry. Even now she slips her lines to sail for Seleucia.”

In that moment a most horrific pain swept over me and I knew beyond a doubt that I would live to write of the life and events I witnessed while following my Lord.