— Feria IV post Dominicam Tertiam in Quadragesima — Statio ad S. Xystum —
In the account of the arrest of Christ, there is a particular and rather curious event that is mentioned by only one of the four Evangelists. The story is told by St. Mark in these words: “Then all his disciples left him and fled. And a certain young man was following him, having a linen cloth wrapped around his naked body, and they seized him. But leaving the linen cloth behind, he fled away from them naked.” (Mk. 14:50)
Since Mark is the only Evangelist to record this circumstance, it is fairly well accepted by Scripture scholars that the young man referred to was St. Mark himself. It was common among the Evangelists to relate transactions in which they themselves took part without mentioning their own names. An added bit of proof that it was Mark himself who started out to follow Christ at the time of His false arrest and then deserted under the most embarrassing circumstance, is due to the fact that Mark did much the same after the resurrection. It was in his very marrow to be an enthusiastic starter but an easily discouraged person.
When St. Paul and St. Barnabas set out on their missionary journey they were attended by Mark. As long as they were sailing across blue waters and as long as they were in the island of Cyprus, Mark stuck with them. Even while they traveled along the coast of Asia Minor, Mark was their minister. But the moment they went up into the island countries, among the rocks and the mountain streams, among robbers and crude natives, Mark left them. How tragically sad this whole missionary story would be if it ended there. But it did not end there. Mark, by the grace of God and the example and counsels of Barnabas, rose to the occasion and went back to his missionary work and later we find him working with St. Paul, who called him in fond words – “My fellow laborer” (Phil. 24). The vacillating Mark became Mark the martyr, for he was martyred for the faith in Alexandria in Egypt.
Two powerful lessons come to us from the story of St Mark; first, Mark in his youth may have followed Christ without counting the cost. He was impetuous. He dashed out to the assistance of Christ at the moment of His arrest. Not until he was seized by a soldier as a follower and associate of Christ did he realize that he of all the disciples had ventured too close and with too much false zeal and without the necessary accompanying virtue of prudence. It was not till Mark stood naked before His master and heard the jeers of the soldiery who saw him make his escape that he realized his folly in relying on his own strength. It was then that he was emptied of his vanity.
The second lesson from the gospel story of Mark should be one of great encouragement for sinners. Mark had made some good starts but he had failed miserably; yet he did not become discouraged even when the great St. Paul refused to trust him after his debacle of the missionary journey he had made in the company of Paul and Barnabas. Paul refused to take him on the second trip. Barnabas, on the other hand, had faith in him and he made good. If you have made good starts, if you have weakened in your Lenten resolutions, take them up again with courage. With men we are given few chances. But God is patient and merciful. Forget the past and look with new hope to the future.