The following morning Mark was sitting in the courtyard, re-acquainting himself with the house in which he had grown up. As his eyes fell on a low wall, he reached up without thinking to run his fingers over the raised scar on the back of his head. It was a permanent reminder of one of the many boisterous games of ‘king of the mountain’ he and his brothers had played growing up. As was often the case, his younger brothers had combined efforts to topple him from his place atop the wall. On that particular morning, Benyamin had not released his grip on his older brother’s arm, and Mark had fallen awkwardly, catching his head on the edge of the wall. The wound in his scalp had bled profusely, and while Daniel had run inside calling for his mother, Benyamin remained rooted to the spot, staring down at Mark. Although he had been dazed by the blow, Mark could still recall being aware of the conflicting emotions playing across his brother’s face: shock and fear, but also an ugly satisfaction. As his fingers traced the ridge of the scar, Mark once more lamented the conflict that existed between he and Benyamin that was present even in his earliest memories.
His reverie was broken by the sound of footsteps crossing the courtyard. He looked up to see an old man approaching him, arms spread wide. Mark’s face lit up as he saw Simeon, and he pushed himself to his feet to be taken into the old man’s arms. After a long moment Simeon stepped back from the embrace, his hands resting on Mark’s shoulders while he examined his features. “Your mother sent word that you were here. Yohanan – it is so good to see you! Ah, but I never thought you would actually come. Miryam must be beside herself with joy.” “I believe she is,” Mark said, his smile spreading even wider. “And it is good to be here. It has been too long. But here, sit. I will tell mother you are here.”
Mark returned a few minutes later, his mother on his arm. He helped her down into her favorite chair, and then sat beside her. Simeon looked from one to the other. “There is much of your mother’s looks about you, Yohanan. But you have your father’s eyes.” Miryam turned to follow Simeon’s gaze. “It is true, my son. When I look at you, I see what your father – he of blessed memory – would have looked like, had he lived to see the age you have.” A sadness fell upon the small assembly, and they sat in silence for a while before Simeon spoke again. “I have sent word to the ecclesia to gather here this evening, to welcome Yohanan, and to hear word of our brothers and sisters in Rome.” He turned to Mark. “I wrote to you of the challenges we face. Tonight, I suspect you will witness some of them firsthand.”
Simeon reached into the small satchel that hung from his shoulder. He withdrew a scroll of parchment. “Do you recognize this?” He handed the scroll to Mark. Mark began to unroll the parchment and read what was written there. “Of course. It is the copy of the tract I sent you that I wrote for our community in Rome.” He carefully rolled it shut and handed it back. “Yes,” said Simeon, “and it has been very helpful as we seek to instruct the community – especially the newcomers, who know little of Jesus beyond their experience of the lives of those of the Way. And I fear the story that some of our lives are telling is not faithful to Jesus himself.” Mark smiled ruefully. “That may well be said of any of the members of the Way – myself included. But I understand what you are saying – the way of the cross is demanding, and the temptation is ever present to choose an easier, softer way.”
Simeon looked down at the scroll in his hands. “Now that you’re here, I have some questions about your account of the gospel.” Mark leaned back and said, “’I’m sure you do!” Simeon hesitated before continuing. “You are well-educated. Your family has always been committed to that. And yet…” He paused, and Mark completed his thought for him. “And yet, the tract does not reflect the quality of my education?” Simeon glanced at Miryam briefly, before saying, “That is what some of the community have said.” Miryam burst out in laughter. “Oh, tell him what they actually say, Simeon. No, I will, to spare your blushes.” She turned to Mark. “Let’s see… ‘Unrefined.’ That’s not too bad. ‘Barbarous.’ A little less…generous, perhaps.” Mark laughed. “Oh, I can assure you that I have heard the same in Rome. And worse.” He leaned forward. “But my purpose in writing my account of the gospel was not to impress its hearers with my literary prowess. I used simple sentence construction, and the present tense to make Jesus the contemporary of its readers and of those who listened to it being read. I wanted them to hear Jesus ask them the questions he asked the Twelve. Occasionally I speak directly to the readers themselves. I wanted them – and you – to understand and be sustained by the truth that Peter so often spoke of, and wrote in his letter from Rome to those of the Way scattered across the empire.” Mark closed his eyes, as he brought the words to mind.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of his glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”
“Believe me,” he continued. “We in Rome know what a fiery ordeal involves.” Images of people – friends – ablaze on Nero’s crosses flashed across his mind. He opened his eyes to look at Simeon. “We know what it means to be faithful to Jesus, and to take up our cross.” Simeon’s face sagged. “I know you do. As do we, to a lesser extent, here in Jerusalem.” His voice grew firm. “But now the challenge we face is from a different call. The call not to take up the cross – which is to submit to the power of Rome as its victims – but to take up the sword against Rome as its adversaries. To follow this new ‘David’, Simon bar Giora, into battle and watch while G_d destroys Vespasian’s legions and fulfills the promise to David, to build a house for his name,” at this, Simeon gestured in the direction of the temple, “and to establish his descendant’s kingdom forever. That is the primary challenge we are facing, as you will no doubt hear tonight.”
“Then,” said Mark, “I look forward to breaking bread with the ecclesia tonight.” He turned to Miryam. “Speaking of which, perhaps I can join the servants in making the loaves, and you can tell me if I remember what you taught me.” He stood, offered his arm to his mother and the three entered the house together…