We rarely think of Paul, the bold and successful evangelist of Acts, as someone who was personally familiar with disappointment, let alone, someone who failed at dealing with it. But Paul was just as human as we are and in Acts 13:13 we are given a foretaste of one of Paul’s biggest disappointments- a young man by the name of John Mark. He grew up in the Jerusalem church (Acts. 12:12) and is considered to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. In Acts 13:4 John Mark is selected to accompany Paul and Barnabas (his cousin) on their first missionary journey.
The Greek word to describe John Mark’s role on this mission is hyperetes. This word can be used in 3 ways. First it can be used to define a person who waits on and carries out the wishes of a magistrate or public official (Mt. 26:58; Mk. 14:54; Ac. 5:22, 26). Secondly it is used of the person who handed the scroll to the reader and then returned it to its storage place during worship in the synagogue (Lk. 4:20) and thirdly it can be used in a general sense of someone who is an attendant, associate, or minister in any kind of work (Jn. 18:36; Ac. 13:5). Many commentators place John Mark’s role on Paul’s first missionary trip in this third definition. But for me, this is too broad. If John Mark was just an assistant who helped Paul and Barnabas with whatever they needed, he could easily be replaced with another helper. I can’t see Paul being THAT upset over such a nominal role. In Acts 13:13 we read that John Mark leaves the mission quite abruptly and returns to Jerusalem. But we are never given an explanation as to why. However, a few chapters later (Ac. 15:36-41), when Barnabas suggests reinstating John Mark for the second missionary trip, Paul vehemently opposes it. It appears to me that Paul’s disappointment over John Mark’s hasty return home was more than the evangelist was ready to deal with but it had to be more than something as simple as bringing Paul his morning cuppa and making sure there was a water bottle at the preaching lectern.
Many have speculated on the reason why John Mark left so quickly. Was he intimidated by the journey? That is possible. The route the entourage was about to take was one of the most dangerous and demanding in the Roman Empire. Could it have been health related? That is possible too. It was common for people to contract malaria in the Pamphylian lowlands where Paul et al had just come from. Was John Mark jealous for his cousin Barnabas whose role was decreasing as Paul’s was increasing? This could be true as could a theological difference in opinion. The Jerusalem contingent of believers was squarely grounded on Torah but the recent council had decided the Gentiles had leeway there (Acts 15:13-21). Did John Mark have an issue with that? The early church leader Chrysostom thought John Mark just wanted to see his mother! We will never know what caused John Mark to leave. What we do know is that his desertion cut deep into Paul’s heart and it not only affected the relationship between Paul and Peter’s protégé, it affected the relationship between Paul and Barnabas too.
How do you deal with disappointment like this? Do you let the anger and bitterness you feel over that disappointment control you? Do you withdraw from trusting others because of the hurt and sorrow over that broken relationship? Do you attempt to work out a solution with the one who has disappointed you if they recognize their failure or do you hold it against them in the form of a grudge? When we are disappointed in life, as Paul was with John Mark, the Bible offers only one solution- reconciliation. That is a tall order! But it is truly possible through the inner working on the Holy Spirit. After Barnabas and Paul parted and went their separate ways we do not hear about John Mark for almost 20 years. Somehow, someway and somewhere during that time frame, Paul came to grips with his disappointment and he managed to put it aside and reconcile his differences with John Mark. Barclay wrote in his commentary on Acts, “When he re-emerges 20 years later, John Mark is the man who has redeemed himself. Paul tells the Colossians to receive him if he comes to Colossae (Col. 4:10). And he tells Timothy just before his death that John Mark is very useful to me (2 Tim. 4:11).” Paul recognized that both he and John Mark had a bigger task at hand, spreading the Good News, and it was important that they do it in unity. Unity is our goal too and we are to forgive those who have disappointed us just as Christ forgave us when He died on the Cross (Mt. 5:21-26; 6:12; 18:15; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre