So my favorite person in the Bible is John Mark, and that’s probably because I feel like him and I are the same person. Here’s a little of what one of my biblical commentaries has to say about him:
“Mistakes are effective teachers. Their consequences have a way of making lessons painfully clear. But those who learn from their mistakes are likely to develop wisdom. John Mark was a good learner who just needed some time and encouragement. He was eager to do the right thing, but he had trouble staying on task. In his Gospel, Mark mentions a young man (probably himself) who fled in such fear during Jesus’ arrest that he left his clothes behind.”
So we’ve got this young dude, he freaks out at the crucifixion (I mean, who wouldn’t), his mom hosts the original church in their home, he sees radical things happen, gets to hang out with three of the most influential people in history, gets discipled by Peter (you know, the “rock” of the church), and one day he’s invited by Paul and Barnabas to go on a missionary journey.
I mean, Paul and Barnabas are making history; it would have been a silly opportunity to miss. So John Mark goes out with them, hangs out in a few countries, sees a couple miracles, witnesses the power and experiences the providence of God, and for whatever reason John Mark is like, “No, I know this is only the second stop, but I’m gonna go home. (Acts 13:13)” Paul wasn’t stoked about this.
The Bible doesn’t give us much of an explanation, but I like to think that our good friend was full of fear. Fear of what? Ionno. Maybe something was going on at home? Maybe he was afraid he’d mess up the trip if he kept on? Maybe he was afraid of hanging out in cultures way different from his hometown? Maybe he was afraid he wasn’t smart enough? Maybe he was afraid that he couldn’t do what God had called him to? Maybe he was missing some really cool event at home? Maybe he was afraid he couldn’t communicate the gospel properly, and let down all the people he met?
My guess though, is that John Mark was afraid he couldn’t be infinite. He couldn’t be infinitely wise, nor helpful, nor present, nor interesting, nor sustaining, and he was letting himself be stretched everywhere. He found himself wayyy too far from home, only to come to the realization that he couldn’t do it all. He couldn’t be everywhere. He couldn’t do everything. He couldn’t please all the people. He let his heart get pulled every which direction until it was completely stationary. He let his fear of his limited existence, limit his existence.
This never meant much to me until the other day when a friend told me, “apathy’s alright sometimes because you can’t care about everything.” It struck me because I couldn’t decide if I thought it was true or not, at least, I certainly didn’t want it to be true. I’ve lived my life convinced I can handle it all, convinced I could practically meet the needs of all my friends and family members, convinced I could serve my community at church, in my town, at my school, and cross-culturally, and that I could pray fervently for every broken thing in this oh so broken world.
See the thing with a perception like that is I’ll always let myself and other people down. It’s inevitable. I’m not infinite. I can’t properly care for everything that ever happened to anyone. I just cannot love like that. But I think I, and a lot of people, let ourselves believe that we can and hold ourselves to that standard. And that doesn’t do anything but fill us with guilt and frustration.
But our God, who is perfect love, can love infinitely. He can be infinitely wise, helpful, present, interesting, and sustaining. He can be stretch every which way. He’s God. We’re not. But, He invites us to be a part of His big God body, to be an ever so, seemingly insignificant part of a magnificent whole, He invites us to play our part and gives us the power to do so.
I think, our slow to learn friend, Mark, figured this out. Paul, who was at one point so disappointed and frustrated with him, refused to let him come on the second missionary journey and had a brief falling out with Barnabas over it (Acts 15.36-40). But somewhere Mark got it, somewhere Mark found his niche and went with it, because we read in Colossians that Mark was with Paul in prison and when he was writing to Philemon. We read in 2 Timothy, as Paul awaits his impending execution, him ask for mark because he’s been helpful to Paul in his ministry.
So maybe all He wants from our finite existence is for us to realize that we can’t play the leading role of this story, and gives us the freedom to realize the best part we can.