The word of the day is “second.” They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But what about those who are not so resilient? Is there a second chance for quitters? In our reading of Acts 15:35-41, Paul and Barnabas debate whether to take John Mark with them on the “Second Missionary Journey.” In his history of the early church, Luke writes, “Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them one who had departed from them in Pamphylia” (OSB vs. 37-38). Today we consider this case of a failure to meet the challenge of service to the Lord. And we suggest how we might respond when we realize that we have failed in carrying out our calling.
The Holy Spirit Can Use Even an Argument
The fierce argument that Paul and Barnabas had over John Mark seems regrettable. Luke describes it as a “sharp contention” that provoked such hard feelings that Paul and Barnabas felt that they could no longer work together. However, as the Holy Spirit used the persecution after Steven’s death to spread the Gospel, so the Holy Spirit made use of this lamentable argument. The result was that not one missionary team but two were sent to proclaim the Gospel in new fields of mission.
Paul is the hero in Luke’s story of the outreach to the Gentiles. Thus, we are likely to side with him in this dispute. After all, Mark had deserted the work of evangelism (vs. 38). But Paul may have also perceived that a team that included Mark would not work. The apostle was totally driven to fulfill his mission, and he demanded total loyalty to him and acceptance of the risk of beating, imprisonment, and even death. Mark was Barnabas’ cousin, and the two relatives may not have readily accepted Paul’s leadership.
Yet we might stop to look at the situation from Mark’s point of view. Clearly, Mark had made a mistake. Why had he abandoned the work so abruptly? We might find an explanation from the fact that the mission had started in Cyprus. Cyprus was Barnabas’ native land. Therefore, it made sense to begin there among people who were friends and family of Barnabas .
John Mark Was Young and Unseasoned
But then the team sailed from Paphos in Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia(vs. 13). In southwest Asia Minor, they were in unfamiliar and pagan territory. The work was bound to be much more difficult and dangerous. Mark was a young man and adversity had not yet seasoned him. He may have felt that he was not yet up to the task. So impulsively, the youth set out for home in Jerusalem.
We do not mean to excuse Mark for what he did, but the dispute raises the question of whether he might have a second chance. From Barnabas’ “determination” to take him along, we can surmise that Mark was willing, and perhaps eager, to make up for his mistake. But regrettably Paul would not hear of it.
Barnabas Gave John Mark Another Opportunity
However, Mark did get an opportunity to join in the work of evangelism. As a “good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (OSB Acts 11:24), Barnabas was willing to accept Mark as his assistant and companion. At this point, Barnabas drops out of the scriptures. According to tradition, Barnabas established a diocese in Milan and then returned to preach in Cyprus where he was martyred (OCA website: “Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy).
But 2 Timothy indicates that Paul and Mark reconciled. Mark was with Paul during the apostle’s imprisonment (Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:23). And Paul endorsed Mark’s good work as an evangelist in 2 Timothy. Paul wrote, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me in ministry” (OSB 2 Timothy 4:11). Then too, as you know, Mark was the author of the first Gospel to be written.
What if we have failed the Lord and His church? What if we realize that we have neglected the calling of the Lord? What if we have been fainthearted, stubborn, preoccupied, or unwilling to accept a challenge or opportunity to serve the Lord? Is there such a thing as a second chance for us?
We know that the Lord is longsuffering and forgives us of our sins and failings. But are we stuck in regret for our mistakes, shortcomings, and failures? The case of Mark suggests that there is no reverse gear in life. We can only go forward. St. Paul wrote, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (OSB Philippians 3:13).
Still More Opportunities Lie Ahead of Us
As we see in our reading, God can use even our faults and mistakes for His purposes. While we live here on earth, God is never finished with us. We must believe that there are still more opportunities, challenges, and work ahead of us. So instead of looking backward, we should look forward, asking the Lord to reveal His calling for us now in the present.
God’s mercies are “new to us every morning” (OSB Lamentations 3:24). So is His call to discipleship. The Lord said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (OSB Matthew 6:34). As we should not worry about tomorrow, we should not fret about yesterday.
All of us experience disappointments. Some are clearly our fault. Others are not. Yet God is in charge. The Lord is kind and forgiving, and He governs all things. So then, let us put our failings behind us and look forward to new opportunities to live and serve the Lord.