Onesimus and the Cost of Running

Mark 2:13-17

A torch light led two guards and I down ladders, past darkened rooms and into the bowels of the ship. Our route ended at a small door half as high as a full grown man. With a key the guard unlocked the door, opened it briefly, then shoved me roughly forward. Tumbling headlong into blackness, I landed on men who, appearing startled, cursed at my sudden appearance. Above me the door slammed shut, confining me to the ship’s brig.

All about men groaned or became ill due to the ship’s heaving, rolling motion,. Others cursed their unfortunate luck. Many spoke in tongues foreign to my ears. If the young woman had expected me to find a welcoming audience aboard the Asklepia she greatly misjudged the temperament of her crew and captain. Running always comes at a price. For me, my attempts to flee Saul and Barnabas in order to return home had placed me in great danger.

The Cost of Running

“My god will not stand for this travesty,” said a voice in front of me. “Honored, I am, in my village.”

“As am I in my town,” said another. “Why, I sit at the city gates deciding matters with other elders.”

A heavy dampness clung to my skin. The stench of unwashed men and their foul sickness from the rocking of the ship caused me to take short, quick breaths. Here and there one or another muttered curses or a groan.

“Perhaps our gods are asleep,” a younger voice replied.

“Or indisposed,” said a third.

I did not dare suggest to those around me that there was but one God, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth and all within and under.

Another voice, this one more calm and closer than the others, asked, “How did you come to be aboard?”

When I did not respond, a sharp and hard blow jarred the back of my shoulder.

“Onesimus asked you a question. Answer him!”

“I, ah, am . . . ” I considered explaining all that had happened that led me to the ship’s brig, but unable to see the faces of those around me, I concluded it best to do as the young woman had suggested. “I have, um, an important message for the owner of this vessel.”

“As do I,” growled the man seated next to me.

“And me.”

“Perhaps your message was meant for more than one, yes? Perhaps it might also be for us as well?”

While I considered the man’s comment, another swift and jarring blow struck the back of my shoulder, pitching me forward. “Do not ignore Onesimus when he speaks to you.”

Unable to make out the faces of those around me I was terrified and wished for some weapon in my hands. But all I could do was remain still and hope the rough crowd pressing in around me would not treat me as the mob outside the prison had wished.

“‘Follow me,'” I said. “That is the message of the Teacher. Our Lord desires that all follow him.”

“What an odd command.”

The touch of the man’s hand resting on my shoulder startled me. “I am Onesimus,” he said. “Slave to Philemon of Colossae. And you?”

“John Mark, a Hebrew from Jerusalem and a bond servant of my Lord.”

“Well I have known others who sought to gather a following. All proved to be frauds who wished to fill their purses with silver and gold. Who is this Teacher who seeks admirers? ”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” I replied. “The day he gave his invitation for others to follow, a Roman tax collector was sitting in his booth along a well-traveled road. At once this man Levi, left everything and followed the Teacher. Not long afterwards Levi hosted a dinner at his home. In attendance were many others like himself along with thieves, harlots, drunks, and all manner of individuals who were forbidden from entering the synagogue and worshipping our God.”

“I worship my god with good spirits,” a voice remarked.

His response elicited a mix of snickering and affirming, “Here, here!” from others.

“Ignore them,” said Onesimus. “Their laughter masks their fears of what is to come. Please tell me more of this Jesus.”

“While eating with these people of the street the teachers of the religious rules and others of high standing in the synagogue asked the Teacher’s disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, the Teacher replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

“Would you be so bold as to think that I need to repent?” asked Onesimus.

The sternness of his tone left me wondering if I had misjudged his character.

“We are all sinners in the eyes of my God, Yahweh, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all that is above and below. None stands in a right relationship with Him, not one. His ways are greater than our ways. He alone is holy. We are but unclean men adorned in filthy rags.”

“If only I had rags to wear,” said a man.

“To believe we are worthy of looking upon the Teacher’s glory in our present state is to deceive ourselves. For this reason I was hauled aboard, this I now see. Though my message is for the captain and the owner of its cargo, I perceive that some here among you are also meant to hear the Teacher’s invitation to follow and serve him only.'”

“Let not another hear you speak in this way,” said Onesimus. “For if you suggest that we serve another master I fear you will be flogged and turned over to the Roman soldiers for execution. Others have attempted to free us and suffered as such and worse.”

In that moment the door above us opened and the call came, “Hoist the lad upwards!”

No sooner had some begun to lift me towards the faint light above when a man near me shouted, “He speaks of insurrection and seeks to provoke us to flee our master.”

“Here! here! Is true. The lad deserves the lash!” said another.

If your god is the creator of all, as you suggest,” said Onesimus, “perhaps he will save you. If not, we will know your words are untrue.” The strong hands of Onesimus cupped me under my arms and lifted me high. “Regardless, your appointment with the captain of this ship has arrived.”

A moment later two guards marched me towards the captain’s quarters.


Steal Our Way Onto a Ship

Mark 2:1-12

Steal Our Way Onto a ShipIn 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 meant to move into the next bay and make final preparations for her departure, I rushed here to wait.”

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 headland, but 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.

“Who are you? What do you want?” a man called from her deck. “Make your intentions known.”

From behind and much closer than expected, one of the men from the fleet of rowboats replied, “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, they had quickly closed the distance between us.

For several seconds silence fell across the water. Only the lapping of our oars disturbed the stillness.

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

I did not understand. Go where? Only when she began to crawl over the side and slip into the water did her purpose become clear.

“Surrender or we will fire,” a man from the rowboats called.

Leaving my oar on the floor of the rowboat, I slipped over and lowered myself into chilly water.

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

With her anchor up, the Asklepia began to move, her bow turning towards open water. The young woman shoved the rowboat away from us, presenting it as a decoy for the fleet behind.

“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 and slightly to starboard of the ship. On her heading she could do nothing but run us down.

“Archers to the ready!” came the call from the Asklepia.

She shaved past so close I could have touched her hull.

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

“What of you?” I asked.

“I will return to the dory and draw the others away.”

“No,” I replied. “We go together.”

“My home is here.”

“But you know the sea. Please. I do not wish to attempt this alone.”


She shoved me hard, causing me to become entangled in rope. I grabbed with both hands and held on. I hoped the young woman might change her mind and take the rope, but soon I lost sight of her. With great effort I pulled myself along until at last I touched the rudder. Out of breath, shivering from cold water, and frightened, my situation appeared little improved. On deck above men raced about in preparation for the attack to come. Then…

The young woman surfaced next to me, panting.

“You came back,” I said.

“Arrows will soon fly. Some lit,” she explained. “It may yet be that the thieves overtake the Asklepia. Once the attack comes, her crew will be distracted. We will attempt to make our way aboard then. If unsuccessful, we may not get another chance to speak. The man unable to walk, how was he healed.”

The whooshing of water slicing past the hull offered some cover for our conversation.

“His friends placed him at the feet of the Teacher. Addressing his skeptics, the Teacher asked, ‘Which is easier to say?  “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk?” But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I tell this man, “Get up! Take your mat and go home.” At this the man got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. The people were so amazed that they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

“No, I suppose they had not. Nor I. Where might I find this man Jesus?”

Before I could answer, a head appeared above us from a stern window.

“You there, identify yourself!”

Unable to speak I considered releasing the rope, but the young woman spoke up.

“I am John Mark,” she replied. “I have stolen aboard to deliver an important message for the owner of this ship.”

“You know my name?” I whispered to her.

“Tell the captain and owner what you told me,” she replied. “Tell it exactly as you told me. Then pray he spares you your life. . . . and the lives of his precious cargo.”

With that she let go of the rope and sank out of sight.


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.