The young man stares out into the horizon on a warm summer’s night on the Mediterranean Sea hoping this ship he has found passage on will take him far away from his pain. Far away from his shame and failure; from his mistake.
He listens to the lap of the waves on the aged wood, the creak of the weathered sails, the smell of the salt in the air. He tries to absorb it all, to feel everything all at once so he cannot focus on what he has done. He cannot afford to or the shame will crush him, but the thoughts burn through his mind like a hot flame.
He thinks of his family and his insides burn with guilt. They were so proud. So proud of the man he was becoming and the opportunity that had been given him. He could still feel the strength of his father’s arms as they embraced before he started on his journey. He could even see his mother’s tears as she watched her little boy leave to become a man. But now he was coming home disgraced. He was a failure.
What would they say? Dare he face them? Could he even be called a son anymore or would he be treated as one of the lepers? As an outcast. The thought is too painful to ruminate upon. He must think of other things.
He remembers a little girl he met on one of their travels. She was hungry, dirty, and in need of help. Paul had been busy attending to local church matters, so he went to the little girl. She was shy at first, but her hunger for the bread in his hand soon overpowered her shyness, and she warmed up to him. Her name was Lila and his heart is warmed by memories of her. How she held his hand and called him her best friend. Children are precious he thinks as his lips form into a smile and tears wet his eyes… If only he could have overcome his fear just as Lila had overcome hers.
Fear. He had always been afraid as a child. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of the animals. Afraid of his father’s anger. Always afraid of something he could not control. He surprised his family and himself when he agreed to go with Paul. Paul was his opposite. Where he was fearful, Paul was courageous. Where he was doubtful, Paul was optimistic. Wherever he was lacking, Paul was overflowing.
But after all the struggles and the advice and the encouragement, he had still given up. He had turned his back and ran. That was what he was doing now. Running. Running away from it all. Running away from his mistakes…. Or so he thought.
“This is your stop kid.” The young man jolts out of his trance and looks around him. He was so deep in thought he didn’t even realize the familiar shape of the shores surrounding his home. After all, it had only been six months since he last saw them, it wasn’t like he had become a stranger to his home during that time. “Time to get off the boat kid,” the helmsman says again. He’s eyeing me warily like I have a disease. I wonder if my shame is visible. Perhaps I have some sign that describes all of my negative qualities or maybe my cowardice is just that noticeable.
The boat gently glides into the harbor and I cautiously make the step from boat to dock. I do not move for a breath. I can still get back on the boat and run even farther away from my problems. Anything would be better than enduring the scorn and ridicule that is sure to come from my family and the townspeople. I have decided to get back on the boat and become a sailor. I’ll trade passage for work. I am about to take a step back onto this vessel I have come to know as my refuge when I hear my name. I freeze.
“John Mark.” I do not recognize that voice. My heart is beating wildly and I am petrified with fear. Who is this?
“John Mark.” My name again. I slowly turn around to face this disembodied voice and to see who has walked into my life.
I see an older man with deep brown eyes and a soft, kind face behind a snow-white beard. Instantly, I am content. I feel safe.
“Who are you,” I ask with one foot in the boat and the other on the dock. As I wait for the answer from this stranger I feel a sudden weight upon my shoulders, as if this very moment were predestined before time to happen and my choice will end my life or allow it to begin again.
“John Mark,” the stranger says with a paternal smile, “My name is Barnabas and I am here to help you.” “Help?” I say fast and sharp. “I do not need any help.” His eyes never leave mine, as if he is staring into my very soul. I feel like I am being examined by this man. Every thing I have ever done is on display for him to view and I am powerless to stop it. He knows what I have done, I think to myself.
“John Mark you are not a failure.” He’s still looking at me. “You are loved. You are important. You have a purpose to fulfill, and I can help you find it, just come with me.” He extends his hand as an invitation. “Get off the boat John Mark and let me encourage you. Let me help you.” His eyes are still on mine. HIs hand is still outstretched. Genuine love and concern is pouring from his body.
I look down. I look up. I look anywhere so I don’t have to look at him. His words are ringing in my ears. You are loved. You are important. You have purpose. I look back into those kind eyes and I surrender. I surrender my guilt, shame, fear, and self-hatred to the Creator. I will let Him say who I am. I am His child.
I take Barnabas’s hand and he pulls me up onto the dock. He gives me a pat on the back and we head into the city. Into the unknown. Into the future.
“Everybody needs a little help John Mark,” he says with a wink and a smile. I smile back and for the first time in a long time I feel hope.
“36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.” (Acts 15:36-40 ESV)
In every mistake and in every failure there is always someone in our lives who is like Barnabas. Someone who sticks with us through thick and thin, who believes in us despite our own unbelief in ourselves, and who lifts us up when we can’t. They hear what the naysayers say about us and they hear all the negative things, but they are still there for us.
Still encouraging us.
Still cheering us on.
John Mark made a mistake. It was a big enough mistake that Paul lost confidence in John Mark. In Paul’s eyes, John Mark was no good.
But Barnabas saw John Mark’s potential. He saw what John Mark could become. The integrity that was still there and the force that God could use for good. So Barnabas believed in John Mark and he encouraged him. He helped him see what he truly was.
John Mark was dependable.
He did have worth.
He was useful.
And eventually, Paul came around too.
“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Tim 4:11 ESV)
You made a mistake.
You messed up.
Don’t worry. It’s all going to be alright. Keep your head up. A Barnabas is coming and you will realize your potential and just what you are capable of.