Mark caught up to Yiftach and laid a hand on his shoulder as he walked across the courtyard. Yiftach flinched at his touch and spun around to find a look of concern etched in the wrinkles of Mark’s face. “You are troubled my young friend. What has happened?” Yiftach shrugged Mark’s hand off angrily. Then his shoulders slumped, his chin dropping to his chest. Mark gestured towards the stone seating under the olive tree. “Why don’t we sit down, and you can tell me what’s causing this pain – perhaps over a cup of what remains of my mother’s excellent wine?” Yiftach allowed himself to be led over to the low wall and sat down.
Mark poured two cups of wine, handed one to Yiftach and sat down beside him. Yiftach stared into his cup as he swirled the wine, the moonlight flashing in the deep red surface. Finally, he said, “It’s Simon.” They sat in silence for a while, and then Yiftach began to relate the exchange he had had with Simon earlier that evening. Angry to find himself fighting back tears again, Yiftach said, “I love that man. I would die for that man. And now he wants nothing to do with me.” He laughed bitterly, as he lifted his eyes from his cup to Mark’s face. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. It’s not like that would ever happen to someone like you.” Mark held his gaze for a moment before responding softly, “I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that, my young friend.” Now it was Mark’s turn to look down into his cup, as painful memories resurfaced.
“In the early days of the church in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul – who had once persecuted members of the Way – was understandably viewed with suspicion as he tried to convince those very people that he, too, had met the risen Jesus. It was only when Barnabas intervened that Paul was – reluctantly – welcomed into the fellowship. When the two of them left Jerusalem to carry the Message to other cities, they took me with them. I confess I was overjoyed to be invited to travel with them. God was using them in mighty ways, and I soon grew to love them both. We sailed to Cyprus where they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues throughout the island. After a while we sailed to Perga in Pamphylia.” Mark paused before continuing in a voice so quiet Yiftach almost missed what he said, “And there I deserted them, and came home.”
They sat in silence for several moments before Yiftach asked, “Why?” Mark continued to contemplate the contents of his cup and then lifted his eyes to Yiftach’s. “Oh, I’m not sure that’s all that important. Let’s just say there was a significant…disagreement. And so, I left and returned here.” “Did you ever see them again?” asked Yiftach. “Oh yes.” Mark replied. “They returned to Jerusalem to report to the other apostles all that God was doing among the gentiles. And ran into opposition from some former Pharisees, who insisted the gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. As I said earlier, the question of who belonged to the Way generated frequent conflict. And – as you clearly know yourself – continues to do so. Well, the apostles and elders came together to discuss the matter, and after Peter spoke up about his own experience with a Roman centurion’s household, the Council determined not to require circumcision of the gentiles. Paul and Barnabas returned to the site of the original controversy – Antioch – and chose Judas and Silas to accompany them. Barnabas invited me to join them on the journey.
“After reporting the decision of the Council to the congregation in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas stayed to teach and preach the word of the Lord. Then Paul told Barnabas he wanted to return to visit the communities of the Way in all the cities where they had proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they were doing. Barnabas wanted me to continue with them, but Paul insisted that they should not take me, because I had deserted them in Pamphylia. They argued – sharply – and in the end they parted company, Paul taking Silas to travel through Syria, while Barnabas took me to sail back to Cyprus.” Mark held Yiftach’s gaze as he said, “So trust me, I know what it feels like to respect someone, to follow someone, to love someone, only to have that person want nothing to do with you…because you let them down.”
As Mark’s eyes misted over at this painful memory, Yiftach finally allowed the tears to fall that he had fought back as the pair sat in silence for a long time. Then Mark spoke again. “I am truly sorry about what happened between you and Simon, because I understand the pain it’s caused you. Not just because of what happened between Paul and I, but also because of the ongoing estrangement I experience from my brothers – because we have competing views of God’s promised future, and how to achieve it.” Yiftach nodded slowly, and then asked, “Were you and Paul ever reconciled?” “Yes!” Mark responded. “Paul sent for me during both his imprisonments in Rome.” He laid his hand on Yiftach’s arm. “There is always hope, my friend. But Simon is committed to the way of violence. He has made his choice: I believe you are still making yours. I know you’re confused, and afraid – and I understand why. Know that I am praying for you – and if you’re wondering where you belong now, know that you are truly welcome here…”