Learning About Sacrifice, With the Help of St. Mark

Image of statue of St. Mark with sky in background.
Photo by Alberto SevenOnSeven on Bigstock

Sacrifice is key. We know that Jesus requires this of his followers, but I also heard this statement repeated many times when my wife and I were engaged.

If I am honest, I think this kind of statement is kind of threatening. I know it to be true based on the life, witness, and words of Christ, but sacrifice is difficult. Approaching my fifth wedding anniversary while having two children (and one on the way) has validated the importance of sacrifice even more concretely in my life. Much of this investigation into sacrifice, however, has been enlightened by St. Mark. 

The feast day of St. Mark falls on April 25 each year. This critically important saint is often overlooked because he was not one of the 12 Apostles. He does not appear in the stories about the earthly ministry of Jesus, but he wrote one of the four Gospels. 

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I admit I used to know nothing about St. Mark; he was just a man who wrote a Gospel. My appreciation for him climbed last year when I decided, for the first time, to read the Gospel of Mark straight through from beginning to end. I often read the Gospel of the day, but after hearing a podcast about the importance of reading these accounts as they were written, I took up the task. I started with Mark, well, because it is the shortest Gospel!

I learned that from the earliest days of the Church, Mark was known to be the interpreter of St. Peter. He became close to Peter and was able to write his account of Jesus’ life based on listening to Peter’s stories.  His writings are viewed as the preaching of St. Peter. We also know, from Acts 12, that Mark was once the companion of Paul and Barnabas as well. 

Taking the time to read the entire Gospel of Mark transformed me. What became more palpable very quickly, was that Jesus was sent to sacrifice his life for me. I felt this in the way that Jesus spoke about his passion in the Gospel of Mark. I could picture Peter speaking these words to Mark and being moved by them as he heard them for the first time. It became more real for me because I realized that this message was literally passed down through the generations in a powerful and transformative way.

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At the start of the third chapter of Mark, people begin to plot Jesus’ death. All Jesus did prior was heal the sick, restore the possessed, and preach the truth. And yet, humanity rejected him. He was to be killed because of who he was. Still, he continued to place himself in the spotlight with more public healings and more intense preaching. Christ did all of this with the knowledge that he came to suffer.

This reaches a shift in intentionality at the midway point in the Gospel. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus goes on, three times, to tell the Apostles that he will be arrested, suffer, die, and rise. Jesus states that he “must suffer” (Mark 8:31). 

I became more and more intrigued by this truth as I reached the details of Jesus’ passion. It seemed more real to me and more powerful. If he tells us that in order to follow him we must also take up the cross (Mark 8:34), then why do I view sacrifice in such a negative way? The sacrifices that I am being invited into actually make me like Jesus. Mark, specifically, taught me this because of his intense focus on suffering and sacrifice. Sacrifice is an opportunity, it should not be a fear.

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My first practical thought was: Can I be more intentional about sacrificing in my marriage? I do my best to do this by helping around the house after work, but I think I view these tasks as things I just have to do. Mark’s insights helped me to see that I can offer difficult times (even if they are simple) as avenues of grace for my loved ones. Doing the dishes or folding the laundry late at night when I am tired and drained aren’t just nice things to do. They can be sacrificial and intentionally done to give me access to Jesus’ sacrificial love. 

Second, I thought about my two boys. Being a parent of a 3-and-a-half-year-old and a 1-and-a-half-year-old can be chaotic. Noise, messiness, and lack of sleep are all side effects when the needs of your children demand all of your attention. My wife, Joanna, experiences this more than I do since she is home with them, but being consistently present to her children all day is a sacrifice. Rather than look to escape into my phone or have “me time,” Mark has inspired me to be more present during these special times with my kids. 

The beauty of Christian sacrifice is that its focus is not on rigor. Sacrifice opens us up to love and makes us who we are meant to be. The tired tasks and intentional presence I strive to have with my children make me a better husband and dad. They do not make my life darker but brighter. Thanks to St. Mark, I am becoming less fearful of sacrifice and more grateful for the impact of Christ’s sacrifice in the concrete aspects of my life.