I have so enjoyed looking at Mark’s Gospel with eleven Farsi-speakers this afternoon.
Mark wrote down the memoirs of Peter when Peter and Paul were both under house-arrest in Rome, in days that ultimately led up to the execution of both Peter and Paul for their Christian faith, at the decision of the emperor. Frightening days for the church.
Together, Peter and Mark crafted a telling of the Jesus story that focuses, with great urgency, on confronting fear. Reasons to be afraid are very real; but fear does not get to have the last word (even if it very almost does).
Peter is there in the story as a man who knew fear, who even denied knowing Jesus three times over following Jesus’ arrest, while Jesus is being hauled up in front of an illegal trial. But Peter can tell the story because he has come to know, personally, that fear does not have the last word. Indeed, he passes on the story, ready to face his own torture and execution.
Mark puts himself into the story, too, a cameo role as the un-named young man who wriggles out of his robe and flees naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest when the guards lay hands on him too. At least, thus has the church understood this strange vignette. Mark does not appear by name until the Acts of the Apostles, where he runs away a second time, abandoning Paul and Barnabas. Yet later he and Paul are reconciled, and Mark proves himself to be of great help to both Paul and Peter in their imprisonments. Later still, the church conferred upon Mark the symbol of the fearless lion; for he, as much as Peter, had learned what it is to be unafraid.
This is a great gospel for women and men who have had to flee a regime that arrests, imprisons and even executes Christians; who have travelled across a continent in the back of a lorry; who now face the potent unwelcoming mix of Theresa May’s hostile environment and good old fashioned English racism; who wait, in limbo.
Their reasons to be afraid are very real; but fear does not get to have the final word.