Hauled Before the Supreme Council

The Tales & Adventures of John Mark — Chapter 14:55-65

Hauled Before the Supreme Council

The Supreme Council gathered around me, for that is what my accusers called themselves—The Supreme Council. As though a group of captives forced into servitude could convict me based on their lies. Though pressed upon by so many, the moon’s light provide illumination enough for me to see faces: Titus and the young man whose uncle lived in Damascus — Onesimus and the veiled woman by his side. To a man and woman each one spoke harshly of my character. 

One after another stepped forward to give false testimony against me.

“I heard him say, ‘We should love our enemy. Pray for those who treat us with contempt.'”

“The lad claimed we should do good to those who hate us.”

“Yes, yes, and yet with his very hands he took a life. Why I heard him confess to as much.”

“‘Bless our enemies,’ he said. Why I dare say the owner’s nephew feels not blessed.”

Others stepped forward making similar accusations and yet none of their testimony agreed, for one claimed I made such a statement soon after being tossed into the cargo hold. Another swore I spoke such words after the fire broke out. The only agreement in any of the statements was the lie that I had confessed to killing Rastus and regretted that ship’s owner had not been in his bunk at the time — that I meant to set the slaves free by taking the life of the one who held them captive.

All at once the purpose of their plan became clear: they intended to gain favor with the owner in hopes of securing their freedom.

“Is this true?” asked the crew’s foreman. “Did you steal aboard with hopes of dispatching the cargo?”

I said nothing for I recalled how the Teacher had been hauled before Pilot and King Herod and tried on false charges. My Lord’s silence stood in contrast to the lying accusations hurled at him. I could do no better than to do as my Lord had and keep my tongue. To speak was to give life to their lies.

“Are you not going to answer?” asked Onesimus.

Still, I said nothing.

“Do you not hear the allegations these men are bringing against you? If you are innocent defend yourself. If not, your silence confirms your guilt.”

Taking a deep breath I prayed for strength to speak words of truth. “Slaves shall be set free,” I answered, “but not by my hand or the hand of any man. My Lord Jesus himself has set free those enslaved. He alone liberates the oppressed and to punishes the wicked.”

“He speaks in riddles so as to conceal his guilt,”one of my accusers said.

“What say you to this?” asked Titus.

“Only that I offer mercy, for that is what my Lord desires.”

Herodes stepped forward, his face flush with anger. “Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard his foolish talk. The lad is possessed by a spirit.”

“A spirit yes and that of my Lord, for his Spirit testifies and confirms the truth. His Spirit convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness.”

“What are we to make of such babbling?” asked Herodes. “The lad is not in his right mind?”

“What is bound on earth is bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. If I forgive you, then you are truly forgiven. And I do forgive you, everyone, just as my Lord forgives me.”

“Enough! You shall not forgive me.” Herodes turned to the pilot. “Perhaps you can get to the truth.”

The pilot now dressed in a robe, I suppose to keep off the chill, asked in a more gentle tone. “You follow the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” I replied.

“That may be a problem, for all aboard follow Caesar.”

I matched his stare, hoping to present courage, though I felt sure he knew my heart was melting with fear.

“You have been accused of many things. Are you not going to answer?” He gestured towards mid-deck where the rabble continued shouting accusations at me. “See how many things they are accusing you of?”

Still, I made no reply. Only chewed on my lip while offering a prayer to my Lord for mercy.

“You killed the  owner of the aid of the owner?”

“Was that your own idea before you heard the charges or after?” I asked.

“Am I a god that I should know such things?” the pilot replied. “These slaves, your own people, handed you over to me. What is it you have done that would prompt them to turn against you?”

“My kingdom is not of this world,” I answered. “If it were, I would fight to prevent my arrest. But my kingdom is from another place.”

“You? A king?”

“A servant in a kingdom, yes. Born as a man, like you, was I, but now I have been born again. I came onto this ship is to testify to this truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to the one who is the Truth.”

“Truth? What is truth?” the pilot replied. Turning to the crowd he said loudly, “I find no basis for a charge against him. Other than the accusations of mere slaves, there is no evidence he killed Rastus or that he intended to stab the owner of the ship. I will release him to sentries to be flogged and then return him to the hold.”

They all answered, “No! Hang him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked the pilot.

But they shouted all the louder, “Hang him!”

When the pilot saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead a mutinous uproar was spreading, he held up both hands before the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood. He is yours to do with as you please!”

All the slaves answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

“Do you really mean to hang a man on the testimony of men without rights?” the pilot asked them.

“Hang him!” they shouted. All the louder they shouted, “For the life of Rastus hang him!”

“Very well, for the life of one man, I shall allow some of you to go with the crew tomorrow to gather timbers.” Returning his attention to me, the pilot said, “I wash my hands of this matter. Your life is in their hands, now.”

In a surge, the crowd rushed me. Some spat in my face. Others pronounced curses upon me. One of the crew tied a linen strip over my eyes, leaving me blind. While two sentries held me upright, others took turns hitting me with their fists. For some time the beating continued. When at last the sentries released me. I slumped to the deck. Unable to see from where the blows came, violent men kicked me until I could not lift my arm to protect myself. Only when I sense my spirit ebbing did I offer this prayer: “Lord, forgive them.”

A moment later a great weight was lifted from me and I passed from pain into a realm of pleasure and peace.


Wreck of the Asklepia

Offered Up as a Prisoner

Much to my relief the Asklepia did not sink.

Though the fire in her cargo hold spread quickly, forcing us to press against walls in order to escape flames, the pilot acted with daring boldness. While waves bashed against her stern, the pilot guided the Asklepia onto a shoal, running her aground in a most violent manner. With her keel stuck fast, great swells began to beat against her bow. For a few frightful moments I thought she might break apart and scatter us into the sea, but a gradual shift in the Asklepia’s position on the shoal’s slope proved fortuitous. In but a few moments the inundation of water rushing into the great ship doused the fire in the cargo hold. Only then, while water sloshed over the port railing, was the crew able to gain the advantage. Soon the fire on deck became but a damp, smoldering heap of charred timbers.

All this I witnessed from the cargo hold, for it was easy to see straight up, so large was the gapping hole from where fire had caved in the deck.

The fact that none of the men and women in the ship’s hold chose to escape served a testimony to the respect they had for Onesimus. Though one or more suggested slipping away to gain their freedom, Onesimus assured them such reckless actions would only lead to a slow, prolonged death preceded first by flogging.

“By the time your tortuous death arrives,” Onesimus said to the man who muttered the suggestion, “it will be a blessed relief. The crew will want to make an example of any who seeks to run.”

“So we are to remain captives until we can be sold? You think that is preferred to the chance of escape?”

“If my bearings are sound, and I believe them to be so,” Onesimus answered, “this shore on which we have fetched upon is but a league long at best and half that in width. I recall spying this island at a distance before we prepared to sail. To escape now would be to find yourself soon captured and forced to choose: escape out to sea or surrender to a horrid death. No, the wise course is to remain with this vessel until such time as a larger body of land comes into view. Only then should we attempt to swim to safety.”

“And when might that be?” asked a man who spoke Aramaic.

While the crew above us surveyed the damage on deck with the lit lanterns, I realized that the man who speaking in Aramaic to Onesimus was an individual named Titus. I suppose Titus thought by speaking in his native tongue others might not know of his proposed plan. Or perhaps he merely meant to draw to himself those from the area of Assyria and build a faction that would support his plan, for was he who proudly boasted of his importance at the city gate. It was he who had declared his intent to use violence against the ship’s owner. And it was he who now suggested that, though it still dark out and we without weapons or lanterns, escape.

“Once repairs are complete and this vessel again underway,” Titus continued, “what is to prevent the crew from sailing to open water with haste.”

In the lanterns’ illumination I saw that Titus was a white haired man with a white beard and eyes dark as coal. His skin had the color of bark from cypress trees, suggesting that he came from the region east of the mountains of Galilee, for his countenance reminded me of the men I had met while traveling with the apostle Paul.

“My hope is only that we survive long enough to escape to a friendly shore,” said Onesimus. “Should some wish to act otherwise, that is for them to choose.”

“I choose to act with boldness and trust the gods to reward me for my courage.”

From the way those around Titus nodded at his words, I gauged that our group had become divided into two factions — one supporting bold action now, another inclined to follow the advice of Onesimus and hope for a more favorable outcome some days in the future.

Sensing that I might gain a much-needed alley, I asked Titus, “Are you familiar with a man called Saul from Tarsus?”

“My village is Maaloula, a two day walk from Damascus. It would take nearly a week to walk from my village to Tarsus.”

“He traveled to your region some days back. Perhaps you heard him speak?”

Onesimus said, “We should offer to help the crew.”

“For what purpose?” Titus countered. “To speed the sale of our souls?”

“This man Saul,” a young man said, “I have heard of him. My uncle lives in Damascus. He spoke of how a man called ‘Saul from Tarsus’ carried with him letters from the high priest of Jerusalem. He passed through their village with the intent of presenting such letters in the synagogues. My uncle warned that should any be found who belonged to the Way, whether man or woman, this Saul wast to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem to be put in prison.”

“He has changed,” I replied, “for on the day he was to arrive in Damascus he saw a great light.”

“I venture we too will see a great light in but a few hours,” Titus interrupted. “And when we do, we shall be forced to repair this vessel and be on our way. I say we act now, one and all, and flee while we still can.”

“With your permission,” said Onesimus, speaking to the group, “I shall propose to the owner of this ship that any among us who have wives or children may be allowed to depart in the morning with crew in order to find timber on this island. Their families will remain aboard. If the man does not return, his family will suffer harm.”

“Your words are those of a madman,” said Titus, his voice rising. “Help this crew? Never!”

“His plan is sound,” I said, coming to the defense of Onesimus. “We should love our enemy. Pray for those who treat us with contempt. Do good to those who hate us. Bless them. Do this and it will be as if we are heaping burning coals upon their heads. Do good to our those who persecute us and we might yet be set free without harm.”

“Set free indeed,” Titus replied. “Very well, let us offer the two of you as ransom for our lives. Should we offer to do as you suggest and go with the crew to fell trees for timber . . . and fail to return  . . . then let our blood be on your head.”

“Though your suggestion carries merit,” said a voice I had yet to hear, “I offer this alternative incentive.”

And older woman stepped forward. The lanterns’ light fell across her face. With a shawl draped over her shoulders and face veiled I saw only her eyes and in them I perceived a hint of bitterness and evil.

“For the opportunity to explore the island and fell trees, we shall present to the owner evidence that this lad has contrived to take the life of the owner’s aid, his relative. For this information we will ask that one of us be left on this island when we sail. What say all to this?”

I supposed all thought they might win the opportunity to remain ashore, for with one voice the crowd shouted, “Surrender the Hebrew! Surrender the Hebrew!”

Stunned by how quickly the crowd turned on me, I watched Onesimus to see if he might come to my defense. Instead, he eased away to join the woman. Clasping her hand, he stood by her side, nodding in agreement with the chant of the crowd until at last his lips parted and he too began to chant, “Surrender the Hebrew! Surrender the Hebrew!”

All at once the warning from the Teacher took on new meaning. “If you forgive a man when he betrays you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive him, your Father will not forgive your sins.” With the crowd’s chant growing louder, I found it difficult to breathe.

A moment later the crowd gave me up to the sentries.

The Cost of Running

Mark 2:13-17 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

The Cost of RunningThe pirate’s blow narrowly missed my ear, its blade slamming into the wooden deck with a resounding thunk. For but a moment I wondered how he had missed but then it became clear — one the sentries had come to my aid. Crashing into the assailant, the guard drove the pirate back towards the railing. Then bringing his fists down on the assailant’s arm, he struck the raider just above the elbow. The sword clanked to the deck. Whirling, the pirate raised onto the balls of his bare feet as if to charge, but the sentry’s hard kick sent pirate sprawling back against the railing.

Had the sentry pressed his advantage he might have succeeded in keeping his life, but while bending over to pick up the sword, the pirate quickly drew a knife from his belt and plunged it deep into the sentry’s chest. For a moment a look of shock shown in the sentry’s eyes. Then he staggered backwards, hands clutching his chest, blood squirting from between fingers. With a gurgling moan, he slumped to his knees and fell face forward. Moving quickly the pirate withdraw his dagger from the dying man’s chest and turned to reach for his sword.

His actions came too late; the second sentry snatched up the sword and in a whooshing blur, brought the blade flush against the side of the burly assailant’s neck, nearly severing his head.

“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” the Teacher had warned. I saw now that my Lord’s words rang true, for with his own weapon the pirate had been slain.

Stunned, perhaps in shock, and confused by the wild brawling around me, my chance to escape over the side passed. Paying little attention to the pirates clambering over the railing, the sentry aimed the sword at my back and marched me towards a deck hatch. A kick to the back of one knee dropped me into a kneeling position. A second kick against my ribs sent me sprawling headfirst into the hatch hole. I plummeted into darkness, landing hard on rough planks. Above me the sentry slammed the hatch door shut, sealing me in darkness with others in the cargo hold.

If the young woman thought I would be welcomed aboard the Asklepia she greatly misjudged the temperament of its crew and ship’s owner. Running from trouble always comes at a price and for me my attempt to flee Saul and Barnabas had led me into a ship’s brig filled with slaves. While the ship rolled side-to-side with swells that passed beneath her hull, those around me groaned as if about to become sick. Others complained loudly.

“Honored I am in my village,” a voice shouted in Aramaic. “I demand to be let out!”

“Do you not hear the crew’s screams, man?” a voice countered.

In darkness a hand gripped my shoulder, startling me.

“You were on deck. What did you witness?” The man spoke with the calm, steady diction of someone in charge. “Is the crew in revolt?”

The shock of being found and accosted so quickly caused me to stutter, “Pi, pi, pirates intend to take the ship.”

“I pray they will,” my neighbor whispered to me. His hand released my shoulder. “Perhaps we will fare better at the hands of murdering thieves.”

Not willing to state my fears that the pirates would demand we join them as crew or be killed, I kept silent.

“In the darkness of night was I stolen from my tent,” a man shouted. “Bound and shipped onto another vessel, were my wife and children. And for where I know not. If offered the chance, I would cut the throat of the person who took me.”

“I sat at the city gates deciding matters with other elders.” said another man. “For me to be treated in this way will bring hostilities. If not from my countrymen then from my fists when I am presented the chance.”

There it was: two men who wished the ship’s owner dead. But if it was freedom the killer desired, why not simply dive over the side after taking the aid’s life? Had one of the two men been seen in a hallway after leaving the owner’s cabin and been tossed back in the hold?

The stench of unwashed men and the odor of their retching prompted me to take short, quick breaths. Above us the roar of flames intensified, suggesting that not only the sails but the masts and spars had also caught fire. From the clank of blades clashing there seemed to be no end to the fighting.

Boasting in Aramaic the man nearest to us shouted, “The god of Ceres will not stand for this travesty.”

“Perhaps your gods are asleep,” a younger voice mocked. “Or indisposed.”

“May my god strike you down for your impertinence. To disparage the god of Ceres is to invite calamity.”

“Knowledge is my god,” the young man countered. “And your gods are no gods at all, for they cannot speak or hear.”

“You speak blasphemy and shall reap the wrath of the gods!”

Despite the increasing heat of the stuffy space, my skin became clammy, as if I were chilled with a fever. Or perhaps it was because of the cramped, stinking room and the ship’s chaotic motion that I began to feel ill. Bending forward I hugged my mid-section, expelling stomach-gas as quietly as possible. In but a few moments the queasiness passed and I felt somewhat better. Only then, while inhaling deeply, did I notice the faint smell of burning wood and smoke. Lifting my gaze upwards, I tracked the faint, narrow glow of orange spreading between each ceiling plank. The Asklepia was on fire.

“Pray tell what good is your knowledge to you now?” asked the man loyal to to the god Ceres. “Can your knowledge free us from this vile place? Save us from being sold into servitude?”

“You shall know soon enough,” the young man answered, “for I sense we are about to be set free.”

Though in my spirit I felt convicted to declare that there was but one true God, I remained silent, for all my attention remained fixed on the orange glow that continued to increase in brightness overhead.

“How is it that you came to be captured?” my neighbor asked.

When I did not respond immediately, a different voice called, “Perhaps he is one of the pirates sent to spy on us.”

I considered the stranger’s comment, wondering best how to reply, then answered,  “I took no part in the attack. I stole aboard, that is true, but only in desperation. I hoped this vessel would take me to the coast of Tyre and Sidon.”

“I know of Tyre and Sidon,” said my neighbor. “Have heard of its violent reputation.” His hand found mine. “I am Onesimus, slave to Philemon of Colossae.”

“John Mark, a Hebrew from Jerusalem.”

“Why this ship” my neighbor,” Onesimus, asked, “when there are other vessels that might be more suitable to such a passage?”

“I . . . someone said I should . . . um, deliver an important message for the owner of this vessel.”

“As do I have a message to deliver,” growled the man seated near us. “And deliver it I shall with my fist should the owner and I ever meet.”

“Should you have the occasion to speak to the owner of the ship,” Onesimus asked, “what would you say?”

Unable to make out the faces of those around me, I sat terrified, for I feared that should I tell them that I sought to deliver a message of liberty, the men and women in the cargo hold might riot. With the ceiling planks glowing with the brilliance of a setting sun, I found the courage to speak the words the Teacher had placed in my heart.

“‘I come to set the captives free,’” I answered. “That is the message of the Teacher. Such was the good news I spoke to the owner of the ship.”

“What an odd thing to say to someone who grows rich by stealing villagers from their tents,” said Onesimus. “And when he heard your words, did the owner of this ship agree to set us free?”

“You are not owned by any man,” I replied. “The Teacher wishes for you to know this — for all to know this. The Teacher did not come for the righteous, the religious, the rich. Rather, he came to save all who do evil, who are lost, and who are held captive by sin and sickness and darkness.”

Those around me began murmuring, though I knew not if my words brought hope or offense, for most spoke in tongues I could not comprehend.

“Would you dare to call me evil?” asked Onesimus

Sensing the attitude of my neighbor had changed, I quickly reassured him that I did not mean to impugn his character. “While it is true that all men are inherently evil, this is not how we were created or the future Yahweh intends for us. In the beginning of all things we were created in his image and what Yahweh creates is good always. But through the actions of one man sin came into the world. For this reason we now know right from wrong, good from evil, and we choose evil over good. Why, this very evening I myself acted with evil intent when I stole my way onto this ship.”

“Evil am I? For which offense do I deserve to be enslaved?” Onesimus asked. “Tell me if you can. Does your god judge so harshly that a man can be taken from his tent in the darkest of nights and forced to be a slave? Is this the god you serve?”

The harshness of his tone left me afraid I had said too much — or explained my Lord’s love in a manner that dishonored him.

“If there be any among us evil it is the Hebrew from Jerusalem,” a voice called out. “With his very words you have have heard him say as much. And did the sentry who brings us water and food not say this very evening that a wicked man walks among us? Perhaps if we purge this evil from among us the ship’s owner might look with fondness upon us and grant us a measure of comfort. Reveal that he is the one with with blood on his hands. What say the rest of you?”

Immediately a cry went up, “Death to the Hebrew! Death to the Hebrew!”

In but a flash of intense heat and falling timbers their shouts of accusation turned to panic. All around me men and women scurried away, screaming as the ship’s deck caved in, trapping us beneath burning timbers. A large ceiling beam gave way, pinning me against the floor where I lay. Flames from its splintered base shot across my legs, searing the soles of my feet.

The Asklepia was going down and if not first burned alive, with her sinking we too would go down to the depths of the sea.


Human Cargo

Mark 10:42-45 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

Human Cargo

In the cabin of the ship’s owner the moon’s faint light bled through open window along the back wall. A skittish breeze lifted the edge of a thin cloth that served as its curtain. In doing so the faint breeze carried the rank odor of emptied bowels and bladder — the owner’s chamber pot. The illumination of a single tallow candle cast upon the face of thes rotund man seated behind a writing desk. To call the room a cabin is to veer towards exaggeration for the space was no larger than the tent I once used to travel with the Teacher. Still, with its low ceiling and cramped feel, I sensed in I was being watched by someone other than the man behind the desk. With a prolonged examination, I saw no others, only a single bunk and it unkempt. The centurions who had hauled me aboard remained in the hallway, no doubt keeping watch to ensure I did not try once more to flee.

Without acknowledging my presence, the ship’s owner pulled the candle closer. On his desk lay a scroll similar to those I had seen used in synagogues back in Galilee. Using the tip of a long, silver pointer and with the intensity of someone searching for something of great value, he read silently to himself.

Only when he reached a line mid-way down did he stop and summon a guard from the hallway. “Take care of Aristarchus and be quick about it.”

The centurion remained next to me, our shoulders nearly touching. “And what would you have me do with him, sir?”

“Carry him out and slip him over when the crew is not looking. Once a crew falls under the spell of rumors and suppositions there is no accounting for how they may react.”

With the help of the second centurion, the pair placed it on a long, wide garment on wood flooring near where I stood. Only when they riffled through the material on the bunk did it become clear to me that the source of the foul smell was not from a chamber pot but that of a man stretched out on the bunk. Upon death the body had emptied itself and filled the room with a stench that even to this day I cannot forget.

“We will remove him by way of the galley, sir. Only the cook shall be in the area and should I have my way he shall not know of what we carry.”

“See to it he does not.”

A knife of some kind had been thrust in the dead man’s chest. An oily, red stain soaked his outer cloak. Eyes part-way open and fixed in a lifeless stare revealed the youthful state of the deceased. I gauged him to be not much older than me.

“The crew must not know of the circumstances surrounding the death of my aid. I mean to find the culprit and soon.”

“Understood. The crew merely suspects Rastus died while on deck fending off the pirates. We shall see this remains their belief.”

Once the pair of centurions exited the room with the body,  the ship’s owner shifted his gaze towards me. “Aristarchus was my personal assistant. He went before me, stood watch outside my cabin, tasted my food, and checked this cabin before I lay down each evening. More than that, he is my sister’s youngest. When I returned from dispensing with those pirates I found him where he lay. No doubt that dagger was meant for me.”

I said nothing, merely listened. Did the owner of the ship think I had killed his relative? Was this why I stood before him?

With the back of his knuckles he rubbed his chin. “Your presence off the stern of my ship, what am I to make of it?”

“I . . . am not part of those who attacked this ship if that is your implication.”

“No? You were found in the water clinging to the safety line and not more than a moment later Aristarchus was found dead in my cabin. My window looks over the rudder. You could have easily thrust him thru and jumped without notice.”

“I assure you, this is the first I have been in your cabin.”

“Cast from shore and adrift by accident, were you? Happened upon this ship by good fortune, did you?”

“My crime, if there is one, is that of someone seeking to steal aboard as a stowaway. I only meant to secure passage to Caesarea.”

“And if this ship is bound for Rome?”

My heart sank. The girl had seemed certain the Asklepia was bound for the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Had she deceived me also?

“Our departure this evening was kept secret,” the ship’s owner continued. “Not even the crew knew of time we would cast off. It was for secrecy that we moved to next harbor before raising sails. Had their been a spirit of mutiny among the crew I hoped to discover it before we put out to see but none made a move to indicate any but loyalty to our mission.”

“And if I may ask, what is your mission?”

“You may ask and now have, but with the death of Rastus your character is suspect. In a word, I do not trust you.” He leaned back in his chair, looking me up and down as if to appraise me. “This much I will disclose: our intent is to sail across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia and land Myra in Lycia. And yet before we can raise sails here were about to attacked by pirates.”

“You have my word that I have no part of their wicked scheme.”

“The word of a murderer means little.”

“Perhaps it is your crew, sir. Could they not be the source of this ill luck that no befalls you?”

“‘Ill luck?’ Pirates do not arrive but with planning. A man stabbed in his bed is not ill luck. The men who brought you to my cabin say that you meant to come aboard to deliver an important message for the owner of this ship. Speak it plane and be gone. I wish to dispose of this matter and you before we come under assault.”

I wondered how best to deliver the Teacher’s words. I sensed that to say the wrong thing might cost me my life. And yet I could only speak the truth. To do otherwise would be to deny my Lord Jesus Christ.

“As you well know,” I said, “those who regard themselves as owners of another person lord it over them, often treating them poorly. I myself have witnessed slaves brutally beaten for simply failing to bring a cup of water with speed. Such treatment of others should not be. We are all created in the image of the God who created the heavens and earth and sea and all that is within. To treat our neighbor as one might oxen or cattle is affront to our creator.”

“Your creator, not mine. My god is Mercury, the god of trade. He is good to me, as I am to him. Great he has made me, for with little I began. I have amassed great wealth and intend to gather even greater goods with the delivery of this ship’s cargo.”

“If you wish to become great, you must serve others. This is the wisdom of the Teacher. Whoever desires to be called great must be slave of all.”

“You speak as a fool, for who but a fool would relinquish command of ship and crew in order to serve as a galley slave?”

“Though his throne is in heaven, the Son of God did just this and more. He gave his life as a ransom for me and you and all who will accept his gift of mercy.”

“Do you propose to teach me how to command this vessel?”

“I only wish to make known to you that the punishment for anyone who steals another is death. Even if the victim is sold or still in their possession, the one who steals an individual for the purposes of making a profit from his life and work must die.”

“There! Your words convict you. You speak for the slave and in doing so you admit that you intended to harm me.”

“I confess no such thing. I am merely speaking the truth.”

“What is truth but what a man thinks truth to be.”

“There is but one truth and he is Lord of all.”

“Lords and truth, slaves and free men. Defend the slave do you? Then with the slaves you will remain until we dispense with this attack. Centurion!”

From outside two centurions rushed in, taking me by the arms.

“Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution,” I said as calmly as I could. “For we are not to rule over man or woman with harshness. In Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free.” With the pair of centurions pulling me out the door and into the hallway I added, “We are all one, all the same, all sinners in need of saving. Even you, sir. Even you.”

A moment later I found myself on deck where all about the crew of the Asklepia fought with the marauders who had boarded the great ship. From within the blackness of sea and night flaming arrows streaked towards us, catching in her sails. I only had but a moment to witness the carnage and in that short time I could see that the pirates held the advantage. Then a deck hatch was quickly opened and I was let down, the released, dropping into the ship’s cargo hold with the rest of the slaves.

I Steal My Way Onto a Ship

Mark 2:1-12 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

Steal My Way Onto a Ship

In darkness a throng of men moved about on the beach, talking in small groups. From the way they gathered at water’s edge, I concluded they meant to make ready in the fleet of small boats resting on sand. To where and for what purpose I could not discern, for not wishing to be discovered, I remained hidden among a stand of trees, crouching in bushes.

On the long dock jutting out into the harbor there did not appear to be any sign of a ship preparing to set sail. It seemed I had arrived too late to make my escape home.

Startled, a breath warmed the back of my neck.

“You were not at the docks as ordered,” a voice whispered. “I waited as long as I dared.”

The words of the young woman startled me. Heart racing, I wheeled to find her standing behind a date palm.

The young woman continued, “Once I learned the Asklepia was we put out to sea and her crew intended to move her into the next bay to make final preparations for her departure, I rushed here to wait. She is a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia.”

Without moon and stars and only the faintest of candles in windows on shore, an overwhelming darkness settled upon me.

“If our ship has sailed why are those men gathered as they are?” I asked.

“They must have spied the Asklepia slip her lines and sail to the next cove. Now they mean to attack and steal her cargo before she sails.”

“I hardly see how this improves my situation. I remain stuck on this beach with no way to escape.”

“I relieved a neighboring fishing vessel of its rowboat,” she said. “When the tide turns the Asklepia will slip away. Unless those murderous thieves reach her first. Hurry, we’ve not a moment to lose.”

Pulling me by the hand, we slipped from the cluster of palms and, crouching low, hurried to what I mistook to be a pile of rocks. At first I thought she meant for us to hide along the water’s edge out of sight behind the mound. Only as we drew near did I realize that stones had been stacked in such a way as to conceal an overturned dory at the water’s edge.

Quickly we righted the small boat and waded out, taking care to keep lapping breakers from swamping her stern. Once aboard, we found places on the two benches and took up oars. The excitement of our escape left my heart pounding, face damp with sweat.

“Do all you can to keep from splashing,” she ordered. “The out-flowing current will carry us around that headlandbut it may also draw us into view of those men.”

Without making a sound, we pulled away from shore and rowed towards the tip of a low strip of land that bracketed one end of the harbor. The young woman’s warning regarding the theft of the Asklepia left me concerned, for I feared we might be mistaken as murderous men sent to steal a ship.

“Tell me, how were you able to escape the home of the leper?”

“How did you know I had become trapped?” I replied.

“From the end of the street I watched until I risked being seen by that mob.”

Though I feared our voices might carry, the young woman no longer appeared worried. I suppose by that point she felt confident we would reach the next bay without incident. Keeping my voice low I explained how I had removed tiles in the ceiling. Then how I crawled onto the roof to escape the mob charging into the woman’s home.

“Is that not also the way the paralytic was let down?” she asked. “By passing him through a hole in the roof?”

“You know of the story?”

“Only that that a man who could not walk or stand was healed with but words. Nothing like that has ever happened. Were you there? Did you witness his healing?”

I gave my oar another hard pull, taking care to dip it back in without splashing.

“The event took place soon after Jesus entered Capernaum. The Teacher had come to his home town. Many knew him as a boy, others as a young man. To find the son of Joseph now going about healing all who came to him caused many to doubt his authority and claims to be from the Father. He later explained to us that a prophet is never honored in his home town. I myself have found his words to be true. It seems those who know us best and have known us longest cannot recognize the greatness others see in us.”

“You speak as though someone much wiser than your years.”

“One cannot but gain knowledge and wisdom when walking with and listening to the Teacher.”

“Look,” she whispered. “Those men are shoving off. Row!”

Behind us rowboats launched. Avoiding waves breaking over rocks near shore, the fleet of small boats soon reached calmer water and began to close the distance between us.

Rowing harder, we ceased talking, and continued to make our way towards a rocky tip of land. Only as we made our turn did the orange glow of the moon below the horizon frame the monstrous shape of a large vessel anchored in a bay.

“That’s her,” the young woman said. “That’s the Asklepia.”

“She is large. Much more so than I expected.”

“Her cargo demands it.”

“Her cargo? What, pray tell, does she carry.”

Ignoring my question, she asked, “Tell me plain, how did the man come to walk?”

“By that evening so many had gathered in the home of Simon that there was no room left, not even outside the door. As most times, the Teacher preached the word to all who would listen. While doing so four men brought a crippled man on a mat. How he arrived at his condition, I do not know, but his countenance showed him to be someone with little hope. His friends had hope enough, though, for when they could not pass through the crowd due to its size, they made an opening in the roof.”

“How I wish I had such friends,” the young woman replied.

“I do in Jerusalem. This is why I so urgently wish to return. Some of my friends witnessed the four friends digging through the roof and lowering the man on the mat.”

“Is that when the man was healed?”

“They laid him at the feet of the Teacher. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

“What an odd thing to say to a man who cannot walk.”

“The teachers of the law thought as much. Sensing in his spirit that they doubted his authority to forgive sins, the Teacher turned to question them. I have since learned that Jesus knows the hearts of all, even our unspoken words.”

In my excitement at seeing the Asklepia, I became distracted and banged the boat’s side with my oar. It slipped from my hand, making a loud splash.

“You there,” a call came from the Asklepia. “Identify yourself!”

“Hurry now, we’ve not a moment to lose,” she whispered. “Word aboard the Asklepia is that pirates would attempt to board at the turning of the tide,” said the young woman. “Her crew fears an attack will come while the men are making preparations to get under way. We must reach her stern and remain out of sight before the crew of the Asklepia mistake us for thieves. ”

“But we are thieves,” I protested. “You stole this rowboat.”

“True. But if we do not move quickly we will be sunk.”

Two rowboats peeled away from the others. I soon saw that they were much larger and more heavily manned. Judging from their course and speed it became clear that the two crews meant to intercept us before we reached the Asklepia.

“Our intentions are noble,” she continued. “The intentions of those men in those boats are nefarious at best and deadly at worst.”

“I do not understand your meaning.”

“You will.”

“Keep a sharp eye out, men,” the call came from the Asklepia, “and have your weapons at the ready. The attack will come from astern.”

Aboard the Asklepia lines were pulled, sails loosened. As she had warned, the great ship was preparing to sail. And we still remained a great distance away.

On we rowed, hidden now and then by a field of large boulders running out from the tip of land. If not for those, we would have been spied by any aboard the Asklepia.

From behind the two rowboats sent to intercept us struggled against the tide. Had we rowed into the current, as they attempted, we might have been caught. But the young woman knew the ways of the water. She had taken a less direct route, choosing to allow the tide to carry us sideways, through the scattering of boulders, past the Asklepia and out to sea. I now saw that she meant to let the great ship come to us.

From far off a second voice called, “You there, stand off! Stand off!”

The Asklepia, less than a hundred yards away, groaned to life, her timbers creaking as sails were let down.

A man called from her deck, “Make your intentions known or you will be fired upon.”

From behind and much closer than expected, one of the men from the fleet of rowboats replied, “Fire if you must. We have come to take possession of your vessel. If you abandon her, you will not be harmed. If you resist, every man aboard will be cut down.”

The main portion of the fleet of rowboats must have seen us and followed. With more vessels and men manning oars, the fleet had quickly closed the distance between us. Silence fell across the water. Only the lapping of our oars disturbed its stillness.

The young woman placed her hand on mine and pulled me up. “Now we will go.”

I did not understand, but before I could ask her to explain, she began to crawl over the side. Without notice from the men in rowboats she slipped into the water. Only then did her purpose become clear.

“Surrender or we will fire,” came the call from the rowboats.

Leaving my oar on the floor of the rowboat, I followed, lowering myself into chilly water.

“If you do not retire at once,” a voice shouted from the Asklepia, “every one not cut down by the sword will be hanged. I command you to disperse!”

With her anchor up, the great ship began to move, her bow turning with the current and wind.

“We’ve come to take possession of your ship,” a man called from a rowboat. “If you give up peaceably, you will not be harmed, but put ashore. Resist and we will show no mercy.”

By swimming with only our heads above water and doing so without making hardly any noise at all, we soon placed ourselves before the ship’s bow and slightly to starboard. Once she got under way, unless she turned off, the Asklepia’s heading she could do nothing but run us down.

A command came from high atop the main mast. “Archers to the ready!”

In darkness with only the moon’s glow to give away our position, the great ship began to glide towards us. With but a single sail sail unfurled she appeared to move much to slowly to escape the fleet of rowboats approaching from her starboard flank.

“There will be a trailing line off her stern for those who may be swept overboard,” the young woman whispered to me. “You have but one chance to grab it.”

“What of you?” I asked.

Before I could prevent her, the young woman shoved our dory back towards the fleet of pirates. I suppose she intended to present the small vessel as a decoy or perhaps expose the nearness of the fleet of pirates.

“I will swim away and return to the dory if I can. If not there is a small rock outcropping not more than a league away I may reach. There I can wait until daybreak. Then I shall search for a returning fishing boat to take me back.”

The whoosh of water rushing past the Asklepia’s hull drew closer. Surprised was I that no one on deck spied us, but I suppose all eyes were fixed on the approaching fleet of pirates in rowboats.

“No,” I said in a hushed voice. “We go together.”

“My home is here in Antalya.”

“But you know the sea. Please, I do not wish to steal my way aboard alone.”

“Arrows will soon fly from those rowboats. Some lit. Should her sails catch fire, the fighting may last for some time. It may yet be that the thieves overtake the Asklepia. Do all you can to escape over the side should the pirates take her. Better to be lost at sea than fall into the hands of murdering thieves.”

“You must come with me,” I replied. “I cannot do this alone.”

“Once the attack comes, her crew will become distracted. Attempt to make your way aboard then. Find some place safe. If you can, a cabin where you will not be found.”

The Asklepia’s bow shaved past so close I could have touched the rough planks of her hull. The foul odor of sea grass and barnacles growing along her waterline let me know that though large, her owner had failed to keep her properly maintained.

“This teacher you mentioned, the one you say is the son of a god, he is all powerful?”

“He is the very God himself. The maker of heaven and earth and sea and all thing below and above.”

“And he came to set those captured free?”

“In a matter of speaking, yes. And recovery of sight for the blind.”

“This man you mentioned before,” the young woman said, “the one bedridden and unable to walk? He was healed by this son of a god?”

The whooshing of water slicing past the hull offered some cover for our conversation, but I feared not enough, for I could easily make out the words of some crew above us discussing the position of the fleet of rowboats quickly approaching.

“The man’s friends who laid him at the feet of the Teacher. When they did so the Teacher had said to the man: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”

“What an odd way to address some in need.”

“I thought so as well, as did several of the religious leaders. They became indignant, asking the Teacher to explain himself, to which he replied, ‘Which is easier for me to say to this man? That his sins are forgiven or hat he should stand, take his mat and walk? But so you may know that the Son of God has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to this man, Son, get up! Take your mat and go home.’ At this the man rose to his feet, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. The people were amazed and began praising God, for none had ever seen anything like it.”

“So then this Jesus heals?”

“Yes. While I was with the Teacher all who came were healed. He turned none away.”

“Once you are aboard tell the owner of the ship all of what you told me. Recount to him exactly the words and actions of the Teacher just as you told me. Do not fail to mention the how he liberates the captives.”

Before I could respond that I had no intention of stealing aboard without her, a head appeared above us from the railing.

“You there, identify yourself!”

In that moment, as she had said, a line trailing from the ship’s stern brushed against my arm. I grabbed it with both hands and held tight.

“I say, pull yourself in or our archers will be fire upon. The ship’s owner demands that you be brought aboard.”

Out of breath, shivering from cold water, and frightened, I clung to the rope. I had no intentions of letting go or pulling myself closer. With the Asklepia’s beginning to make speed I hoped to hang on until I was some distance away from the fleet or rowboats, then release the line and swim . . . to where I did not know.

In that moment two heads appeared near me, one on my left, the other my right. Two of her crew had slipped over and into the water without me noticing. Before I could react both had me and were pulling me closer to the ship’s rudder. With the moment lost, I became a prisoner of the Asklepia.


First Healing

Mark 1:22-34 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

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.