Perga is a swamp. After the delights of their preaching tour through Cyprus, Perga in Pamphylia must have seemed like the end of the world. The air was stagnant and infested with mosquitoes. To refined Jews, the pagans who lived there must have seemed a godless race. On top of it all, Paul might have contracted malaria. John Mark had had enough. He packed up and returned to Jerusalem. Barnabas stayed with Paul and managed to get his friend inland, to a higher clime and a healthier environment. Later Paul wrote to the Galatians who lived in the highlands north of Perga, “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. … For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me,” (Galatians 4:13-15).
It’s easy to understand why John Mark fled home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13) and we can understand why Paul was reluctant to trust Mark after that experience (Acts 15:38). On the other hand, Barnabas was adamant about giving John Mark a second chance but Paul was equally insistent not to. Once trust has been broken, it’s very hard to regain. The dispute became so great; the two old friends went their separate ways. History tells us Barnabas and Mark went to Egypt while the Bible describes Paul’s journey with Silas and Timothy back through Galatia and on to Europe.
So why didn’t Paul forgive John Mark and let him go with them? I’d like to think Paul did forgive Mark for deserting him but does that mean Paul was obligated to go on as if nothing had happened? Trust is a precious commodity. It must be earned. Once it has been lost, it is hard to regain.
So how did John Mark react to all of this? When he heard about the plans for a second missionary journey, did he ask for a second chance? Or, was he so ashamed of his behavior he didn’t even dare to dream about going with them? Was it wholly Barnabas’ idea? After all Barnabas was John Mark’s relative. Did Barnabas seek Mark out after he and Paul decided to split up?
How would you react if you were given a second chance? Forgiveness is a beautiful, energizing thing, but here is the point. Mark didn’t talk Paul into trusting him. I like to think John Mark worked harder and longer and became worthy of the apostle’s trust. I know Mark’s reputation was restored. Peter calls him “my son” (1 Peter 5:13) and Paul told Timothy to “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry,” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Yes, trust can be lost, but our God is a God of new beginnings. Trust can be restored. It was true for John Mark and it can be true for us.