John Mark, Part 1
Not far beyond Gethsemane,
And bending toward the barren sea,
Beyond the Kidron Valley, lay
The "Hills of Hope," the name, they say,
That Peter gave to Joseph's field
When he had sold it, and then kneeled
Before the Lord's apostles at
Jerusalem and gave all that
He got to help the poor. It was
A better name than "field," because
There were so many bluffs and caves
And sacred mounds from ancient graves.
And Peter knew this district of
Judea well. It stood above
A hundred other places in
His heart because the weight of sin
Was lifted in a cavern where
He tasted grief and grace. For there,
Amid those hills and bluffs, one cave
Was transformed from a gloomy grave
Into a birthing place of hope —
From fearful darkness, where you grope
Along the unseen walls, into
A world of happy light. And through
One night of darkness passed not one
But two despairing men, undone
By craven cowardice. And so
He made the field of Joseph grow
With lilies, as it were, and turned
A field where bones were burned
Into the Hills of Hope.
To pass — this double deed — the same
Night that the Lord of glory set
His face against the mob that met
Him in Gethsemane and saw
His fair-wind followers withdraw
And leave him utterly alone,
As if he were a common stone
Rejected for the jewel of
Security — as though his love
Were not more precious than our breath,
Or worth a thousand woes of death.
That night one common sound, and one
Uncommon sight, was seared upon
The depths of Simon's mind. The sound:
A crowing cock. It would have drowned
The rolling thunder, had there been
A storm, besides the one within.
And in that moment, Jesus turned
And looked at Peter. How they burned,
These eyes of Christ! But not with rage,
Nor blame, nor pleading to engage
Some pity for himself. This sight
Would make no sense until the light
Of dawn had transformed Joseph's land
Into the Hills of Hope — as planned.
When Peter saw those eyes, he fled
Across the Kidron brook and sped
In fear and grief to Joseph's field,
In hopes that night and flight would shield
Him from the Jewish court and from
The eyes of Christ. When he had come,
He groped until he found a cave,
And there he hoped that he would save
His life. And in the dark he cried,
And poured out everything inside
To God. "O God of Abraham
What have I done! Three years a sham
Of faith! Three years of patient grace
Now thrown back in my Savior's face!
Three years of hope that this untamed
And cursed mouth might be enflamed
With truth, in one dark night undone.
Three years of saying, 'I am one
Who will not fail you come what may,'
In one weak moment thrown away.
And all the promises about
My name, the Rock, cut out,
And dashed in pieces by one thing:
The damning of my precious king,
And friend. O God, would I had died
Before I Jesus Christ denied."
The sun was rising on the field
Of Joseph, but the cave was sealed
In darkness deep within. And there,
As if in answer to some prayer,
A memory awoke among
Fresh thoughts of suicide. His tongue
Began to move again, as though
Some solid fact that he should know
Had forced itself from somewhere deep
Below the pain of grief and heap
Of heavy self-reproach, into
His conscious mind. Then softly through
The darkness, Peter spoke. "The earth
And sky may pass away, the worth
Of stars may fade, but every word
That Jesus spoke, and that I heard,
Will stand and never fall. And did
He not just hours ago forbid
Despair and say, 'You will deny
Me, Peter, these three times, but I
Have prayed for you, that your faith may
Not fail. And when you turn display
This mercy for the ones who flee
And weep that they've forsaken me.'"
He paused, and thought he heard a sound.
But then went on, "Lord, if I found
In you forgiveness for my sin
And treachery, I would begin
To speak this grace in hope to all
Of those who fell, and think their fall
Too far for grace to reach." Again
He stopped, more suddenly. And then
He swung around, "Who's there?" he cried.
The sound from further deep inside
The cave was clear this time. "Hello!
Who's there? And are you friend or foe?"
A trembling voice replied, "A friend,
I hope — that is, if you intend,
O please, to do what you just said."
"If I'm not speaking with the dead,
What is your name?" "John Mark," the voice
Replied. "Well, John! Shall I rejoice
That you are here, or think some bleak
And dreadful thought? Come here and speak,
And let me take your hand and go
Out in the morning light and know
What happened, lad." "I can't," the youth
Replied. "Why not? Come speak the truth."
"I don't have anything to wear,"
He said. "You what!" "My body's bare.
I have no clothes." "Well what on earth?
Is this some ritual of birth?
You think this cave's a womb?" The lad
Was silent. Peter said, "Here, clad
Yourself with this," and held his cloak
Out toward the voice. "It's not a joke,
I'm sorry. Put this on, my son.
What happened?" "I just tried to run.
They grabbed my clothes. I thought that they
Would kill me. Then I broke away
And ran to Joseph's field to find
A hiding place. I knew you dined
Last night at Mother's house, and when
You left, I saw the spying men
And hurried out to tell you there
Was danger, so you could prepare.
But as I crossed the brook, some men
Among the rabble noticed when
I tried to go around. They sent
A squad to chase me and prevent
The warning that I brought. I hid
Until I thought the way was rid
Of danger. Then I came. The Lord
Was being led away. A horde
Of angry men seemed everywhere.
I followed but I didn't dare
Come close. I thought that you and James
And John would strike with flames
Of rage and I would join the fight
And we would die or put to flight
The enemies of God. And then
They saw me, maybe eight or ten.
I outran all but two, and when
They caught my cape, I left it. Then
They laughed and left me in the dark.
And here I am, the brave John Mark."
As Peter held the shivering lad,
Silence filled the cave. "I'm glad
God put us in the same dark place,
Here," Peter said. "It is a grace
To you and me. For now I see
How Jesus' prayer was meant to be,
And how my sin and burning grief,
And turning back bring you relief.
'When you have turned, then raise the dead,'
He said, then let me fall, and led
Me, weeping, to an open grave
In Joseph's field, the only cave
In all these hills where John Mark said
Farewell to life among the dead.
Is this not what I saw last night
In Jesus' eyes? No sacred rage,
No blame, no pleading to engage
Some pity for himself. Instead
A sovereign sorrow, as he bled
To make my sin your soul's repair,
And buy the answer to his prayer?"
Now come and look at candle three
A flame that burns for you and me:
This is the fire in Jesus' eyes,
The sovereign sorrow as he dies,
And takes the lonely field of graves,
The mounds of grief and desperate caves,
The midnight foothills where we grope,
And turns them into Hills of Hope.
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