A Fish Tale

Mark 1:16-20 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

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

Mark 1:14 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

Trouble Outside the JailThe 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.

Led Into the Wilderness by the Spirit of Yahweh

Mark 1:12-1 (Matthew 4:1-11) — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

Led Into the Wilderness by the Spirit of YahwehAt once I found myself in prison. How I arrived I could not recall, though my head ached with a pain that suggested I’d taken a terrible blow. I could think of no reason for my incarceration and yet there I lay in stocks, bound at ankles and wrists.

Had I been put in prison for proclaiming the good news of God? That had been the charge laid upon John the Baptizer. I feared this was the case. If so, might I also be in danger of the sword?

After much prayer and reflection I determined to attribute my misfortune to the Spirit of Yahweh. Perhaps as he had once carried my Lord Jesus into a place of desolation, Yahweh’s Spirit had carried me into this prison wilderness for a purpose.

After going four days without food or water and growing hungry, a second offender arrived. The guard deposited the man next to me, binding our wrists together in the stocks. No sooner had the individual become settled with his new surroundings than he began to recount his life of crimes. When at last I commented that I was a Hebrew and how my people hold to a higher law, a moral standard issued by the god who created the heavens and earth, the man responded in a most dismissive manner.

“If indeed you serve this ‘Son of God’ and have his spirit within, as you say, tell these stones beneath our heads to become bread.”

“It is written,” I replied, “‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.'”

“So this Son of God you serve cannot save you? Perhaps he is not son of deity at all.”

“Already saved I am. Jesus forgave my transgressions. I am now free from the bondage of sin. But as to liberating me from this prison, that is not for me to declare nor demand. I must wait on the Lord for his will to be done.”

“And content with your plight you are? If this Jesus loves you, as you claim, will he not rush through those doors and rescue you? For well I know that it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

I answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord Yahweh to the test.’”

“Ah, but you have not put him to the test. Rather it is this god of yours who is putting you to the test. Let us make a pact,” the man continued. “I will give you half the contents of my purse if you will help me overpower the guard when he returns. In this way we can escape and be free of these chains.”

“Away from me, you demon of the devil. It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God. Obey his commands. Serve him only.'”

“Of what good are these commands you speak if you are not a free man?”

“In all ways Yahweh is good and loving. His words are true, his love pure. He is faithful to sustain me.”

In that moment the door opened. Without so much as acknowledging me, a second guard, small in stature approached the stocks, bent down and unshackled the other man.

“This fellow,” said my cellmate, “now he worships power, influence, and wealth.”

From out of his purse, the man with the spirit of the devil pulled out five coins with the face of Caesar stamped into each.

As my cellmate turned to follow the guard out, he paused to look back. With a wry smile he said, “Be of good cheer, Hebrew. Perhaps the angels of your god may yet came and attended you. But if not, at least you will die in this wretched place with your faith to comfort you.

When the door slammed shut I found myself once more in darkness. While tears streaked my cheeks, I returned to my praying, continuing as I began: “My father, you are in heaven and I am here. Your name is holy and mine is John Mark. Provide this day for my every need and lead me not into temptation. As you have just now, continue to deliver me from the evil one. Forgive me of my sins. I acknowledge that I forgive all who grieve me—even those who desert me. Lead me now out of temptation that I might remain faithful to my Lord Jesus.”

I wish I could say an overwhelming feeling of comfort swept over me in that moment. That the chill of the dirt floor grew warm. That a fresh breeze found its way in to disturb the rank air I breathed. I can only say that in that moment the peace of Yahweh’s Spirit filled my heart and all became well with my soul.

“Thanks be to you, my Lord Yahweh, and your Son, for the indwelling of you Spirit within me. Amen.”

A Baptism Gone Wrong

Mark 1:9-10 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

A Baptism Gone WrongThough the day began to grow dark, I had yet to find a vessel that would take me to Seleucia. We picked our way through crooked streets that led to water, only to back away when we found the shore empty of vessels. There was scarce room for oxcarts and horse-drawn wagons to pass each other, such were the confines of the narrow streets.

“Come,” said Artemas, “perhaps in a place of spirits we shall find a man who knows of vessels departing.”

I questioned the wisdom of his words, for if we remained much longer in the wharf area, I feared we would meet with violence.

“So this baptism of John’s that you mentioned,” said Artemas, “it is for the forgiveness of a man’s sins?”

“Heaven forbid it. John’s baptism by water is only a demonstration of our repentance and a desire by us to be forgiven of our sins. Only the Holy One can forgive sins.”

We turned up a darkened alley and passed the doorway of a place where men, intoxicated by drink, staggered about, their loud, boisterous talking peppered with banter in tongues I could not understand. First one and then another would hurl curses at each other and a fight would break out among the pair.

Though rife with violence and vile drink, I found my heart filled with excitement, for well I knew from my travels with Paul and Barnabas that it was in such places that seamen sought relief from the day’s work on the docks and ships.

“Even the Holy One consented to be baptized by John,” I continued. “He came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Only Jesus’ occurrence proved different than my own. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit of Yahweh descending on him like a dove. Jesus alone, the Son of God, can forgive sins. John the Baptizer merely pointed to Jesus my Lord.”

“So even this Jesus needed to be baptized?” Artemas asked.

“Heaven forbid it. He merely consented in order that all Scripture might be fulfilled. Even so, his example is one we should follow, for if the Son of God consented to be baptized who are we to think otherwise?”

“Should I wish to be forgiven for my sins,” said Artemas, “where might I find this Messiah, this Jesus?”

I eyed the front of the drinking place. “Not in there. Though I confess that while Jesus lived among us he would often associate with such rabble, for his custom was to welcome the outcast and those deemed ‘sinners’ by the rich. But he is gone, now. His body raised to heaven. Only his Spirit remains.”

“Then in there perhaps we might yet find his Spirit.”

“I fear the only kinds of spirits served in such a place are those that lead to drunkenness and trouble.”

“Still, perhaps we shall find a man who knows if a vessel will soon be departing for Seleucia. Wait here while I inquire.”

I remained on the street while Artemas spoke to a man in the doorway. The fellow stood tall and erect, but what interested me most was his face. His complexion was pale and skin drawn tight around his mouth, showing the hard edge of cheek bones. You see such faces among those suffering from hunger and yet the man had the air of someone in authority. Surely he could eat all he wished. Though not heavy, his broad shoulders suggested a strength about him that I did not wish to challenge.

Stepping from the doorway the tall man approached, speaking to me in a tongue I could not understand.

“He is asking if you have funds on you for drink and food.”

“Only a few coins,” I replied.

Pointing at my purse, Artemas spoke to the man in a strange tongue.

My answer seemed to satisfy the man. We followed him through the crowd at the door and inside where he seated us at a table in rear of the room. With only a single tallow candle for light, I could scarce see Artemas seated across from me.

Drinks came before I could refuse. I had no desire to consume such vile refreshment and said so. I imagine Artemas anticipated my reaction for he grinned in a manner that suggested this pleased him. Before I could request that my drink be returned, he took a heavy gulp from my mug and with a thud put it down empty on the table.

After downing the last drop from his own mug, he leaned across the table towards me. “A matter of Providence it was, me finding you on this particular day.”

From shadows a figure appeared with two fresh mugs. Not wishing for Artemas to become intoxicated at my expense, I pulled both towards me.

Hesitating momentarily, I took a small sip of the vile drink and nearly coughed it back up. “How so?” I asked.

“This very morning I was saying to myself how often I regretted the things I have done and said. How with my fists I have hurt men for pleasure. Women as well. A wretched man am I. And yet on this very day you cross my path with news of a my to repent of my wickedness and be washed clean in this baptism of which you speak. See now, there is water not but a short walk from here. What is to prevent me from being baptized this very moment?”

I suppose part of his behavior may have been the spirits working on my new friend, for well lubricated his tongue seemed to be. And yet he appeared sincere in his request. In that moment I also found myself somewhat carefree. This also I attributed to the small amount of spirits I had consumed.

On the news that we might leave that wretched place, I returned our mugs to our server and offered a few coins for our fare. With Artemas slipping out the back door, I followed moments later only to discover the back alley dark and empty. Where he had gone I did not know.

Wheeling around to catch the door before it shut, a bright light suddenly blinded me. In that same moment my head exploded with pain. For but a second I found myself on knees, eyes blurred from the blow I had received.

A second strike drove me face first into dirt. The last thing I heard was gay laughter over me as rough hands riffled my person. Then all became black.

Artemas of Cypress

Mark 1:1-8 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

Artemas of CypressI carried little money to pay for passage and had small likelihood of earning such funds. So as I roamed the streets of Antalya I cast about in my mind for other ways I might earn fare.

If I could hire myself on as crew in return for passage to Seleucia, that might put me to sea sooner. Well I knew many of the terms seamen used while on board—mainsail, topgallant, skysail, spanker, jib, forecastle, galley, and cabin. The problem remained, however, as to what skills I might bring to a task. Still, I could not expect to remain on the streets for long.

Thus my search began in earnest for a ship being loaded for departure. When I happened upon a group of men loading grain onto carts and rolling them onto the wharf I fell in alongside, assisting as they unloaded the goods.

At first the men viewed me suspiciously, so I made a point not to make eye contact and turn away quickly should one appear ready to speak to me. That seemed to settle the matter. Soon they appeared willing to accept my help without question. Only later, after all the cargo on shore was loaded did one dare to ask my name.

“John Mark,” I replied. “And yours?”

“Artemas of Cypress. You wear the mark of the Hebrew. Be those your people?”

I am sure the shock of being singled out so quickly showed on my face.

“When we relieved ourselves over the rail…” Artemas added. His meaning was clear.

“Yes, circumcised on the eighth day,” I replied.

“Then if I may, what are you to make of the one called John?”

At this my thoughts swirled for I knew not which John he meant. John the disciple of my Lord? Or John his cousin? both held a certain amount of fame among my people.

“We hear he was beheaded for daring to insult a tetrarch of Caesar Augustus,” Artemas continued. “Is it true he called the leaders of your people a ‘brood of vipers?'”

“John’s was a baptism of repentance,” I explained, “and for the forgiveness of sins. All who came confessed their sins and were then baptized with water by the cousin of Jesus.”

“But accusing those in authority of acting as a ‘brood of vipers?’ Does he not know that vipers hatch within their mother and eat their way out?”

“Well I know that John made such a declaration with intent, for many years ago our people wandered in a wasteland due to our rebellion. When we complained of hunger, Yahweh provided food from heaven. When we thirsted, Yahweh provided water from a rock. But still we grumbled, so he sent a brood of vipers to destroy us. When he pleaded to Moses for Yahweh to take away the vipers, Yahweh ordered that Moses make a bronze snake and lift it on a pole. All who looked up at the snake would be saved. Now we are to look to the cross upon which the Messiah who saves was crucified. He alone can recuse us from the death that comes from the venom of sin.”

“But how—”

“Our religious leaders continue to cling to the law of the wilderness that brings death,” I quickly added. “Like a brood of vipers their bite poisons those who are lost, for the laws of Yahweh cannot save us from sin, but only show us what sin looks like. This is why John called them a brood of vipers. They hatch from inside religious traditions and eat their way out, destroying all in the process while saving none from sin. This is why John called them a brood of vipers. Though they know the law of Yahweh their spirit is that of that old serpent the devil.”

“I see you are well versed in the ways of your people. Might you share more with me over a meal? Perhaps this evening?”

“Much would I like to do so, but I am in need of a vessel to take me home and should I find one before the day is out, I will depart.”

“Then come. Let us find you such a vessel. Perhaps as we search the docks you will explain more of how I might be saved by this Messiah of which you speak.”

And so I fell in step with Artemas of Cypress, a man I would soon discover was even more dangerous and deadly than the Pharisees and teachers of the law who killed my Lord.

I Will Make Your Paths Straight

Mark 1: 7-8 — The Tales & Adventures of John Mark

I Will Make Your Paths Straight-Proverbs 9Men loitered here and there on along the waterfront. Doubtless most worked on ships or loading vessels, though of what make and size I could not say. I might have inquired of of the men where I might find a vessel bound for Seleucia Pieria, but most seemed glum or so interested in their own affairs that I dared not interrupt.

Lacking the courage to look them in the eye, I passed by in much the same way I had the relative of Jesus when first I spied him. Dressed in a garment made of camel’s hair and synched tight around his waste with a leather belt, John struck me as someone to be avoided. Dare I say mad. Though his pronouncements of coming judgement aligned with the writings of the Prophets, his preference for locusts and wild honey seemed an odd diet of nourishment.

Not that others agreed with my assessment, for John’s call to repentance drew many from Jerusalem, and even more from Judaea. In the river John baptized those who confessed their sins. He would then urge them to repent and sternly warn them against committing such sins again.

“I baptize you with water for repentance,” he would declare. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.”

With this pronouncement, John would lead “sinners” into the river, shoving them under and declaring their sins washed away. With great exuberance he would walk the individual back onto the river bank, all the while praising the Lord our God.

Quoting from the writings of Malachi, John would call out, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” (Malachi 3:1)

At other times he quoted from the prophet Isaiah. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” (Isaiah 40:3)

But on the day after I abandoned Paul and Barnabas, as I walked the waterfront in search of a vessel to take me home, I realized I myself had not properly prepared my way. Perhaps I had acted too hastily when I had agreed to join Paul and Barnabas. Had I sought the Lord in prayer with more fervor, would my course have turned out differently?

That I wondered while I stood along the shore, recalling the words of King Solomon. “In all your ways submit to him, our Lord God, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6)

Dropping to my knees, I prayed, “Oh Lord, have I not submitted to you? Was I not obedient? Is this why my path is not straight, your plans for me unclear?”

With thoughts of doubts swirling in my mind and trembling with fear I waded into the water. When at last small waves broke against my chest, I slipped under. “Forgive me, Lord, for confusing my calling for your sending. Wash away my sins. Oh my God, save me.”

Back on the beach, wet, tears filling my eyes, I tried to bolster my drooping spirits by recounting how I had already proved I could take care of myself alone. But it was of no use. I could not muster the encouragement to continue my search for a vessel bound for home.

Hungry, having had no food since the evening before, and then only a few handfuls of bread and meat, I walked the alleyways in search of some place I might grab a bite.

From the end of the alley a scantly clad woman beckoned me from the doorway of a ramshackle home. “Let all who are simple come into my house! Stolen water is sweet. Food eaten in secret is delicious!”

“To those who have no sense,” a nearby shop keeper whispered to me, “she calls out to those who pass by. Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead. Best go straight on yer way. A lad of understanding like yourself walks straight. On a straight path you will not stumble.”

“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed,” the woman continued saying to me. “Leave your simple ways and you will live. Walk in the way of insight.”

“You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you woman of the devil,” the man replied. “You enemy of all righteousness. Will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” Fixing his gaze on me, he said, “Walk on, mate. If you value your future and life, walk on.”

In that moment the man’s words resonated with my spirit. I fingered the few coins in my pocket and decided to heed his advice. Perhaps I would have better luck finding a cheap meal at a taberna.

Backing away from the alley, I turned the corner and continued to make my way through the streets of Antalya.