I learned early on in my study of the saints, that Jesus Christ is highly instrumental in the making of a saint. It’s not just the holy person’s true, abiding, unfailing love and striving towards Jesus, but that He actually takes part in guiding, influencing, and, especially during the gospel era, communicating directly.
But what I had not realized until just this past month as I worked on writing assignments for Grow Christians was how vitally important other people were along the journey to sainthood. I wonder if Paul and Mark would even be saints without Barnabas, or if Peter’s story of Jesus’s ministry would be so clearly known to us without Mark’s Gospel.
The interconnectivity of their life stories and their influence upon each other is clear and inspiring:
The interconnectivity of their life stories and their influence upon each other is clear and inspiring:
St. Mark the Evangelist and Sautéed Mustard Greens
St. Mark the Evangelist was one of the 70 Apostles of Jesus Christ, author of the Gospel of Mark, and the father of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt. He suffered a martyr’s death in 68 A.D. and his feast day is April 25.
Although ancient scrolls offer no certainty, it’s traditionally believed that St. Mark was the young adult son of the woman who hosted the Last Supper, that he assisted in serving the meal, and that he was a witness to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost.
Mark was deeply influenced by these events, so he took his place among the large group of apostles and set out to preach. Yet on several occasions, Mark refused to step up as a spiritual leader. One time, St. Paul rejected his assistance because Mark had left him during a previous mission. (See Acts 15:36-40.)
Mark believed in Jesus with all his heart, but because he wasn’t part of the group that traveled with Jesus during his three years of ministry, he didn’t have the experiences or know the story well enough to share it.
What Mark needed was a teacher/parent-figure/guide. So he traveled to Rome and found all this in St. Peter.
Peter accepted Mark and treated him as if he were his own son (See 1 Peter 5:13). He shared his experiences during Jesus’s ministry and taught Mark how to preach. When Peter believed Mark was ready to spread the Word, he deemed him a priest and sent him off.
At some point, Mark returned to Paul who later referred to him as a “fellow worker, useful in my ministry” (See Philemon 1:23-34 and 2 Timothy 4:11 ). It was probably during his time with Paul that Mark wrote his gospel based on Peter’s memories. Parts can be read like a preacher’s manual:
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” – Mark 4:30-32
By sharing the words of Jesus Christ in his ministry and written words, St. Mark scattered seeds of faith that continue to grow Christians.
The young Christians in our lives need us to be the Peter to their Mark. They need us to teach them the words, share what we learned from our mistakes, and reinforce their confidence through practice.
Help them practice honoring St. Mark on his feast day by preparing:
Sautéed Mustard Greens
2 bunches fresh mustard greens (If unavailable, frozen will do.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Goat cheese crumbles
(If using frozen mustard greens, heat until thawed and skip the first three steps.)
1. Soak mustard greens in cleaned sink or large dishpan for a few minutes.
2. Rinse under cold running water. Remove stems, and rip leaves into bite-size pieces.
3. Place in large pot with about ¼ cup water, cover, and cook over high heat until leaves have wilted, about one minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. In a large frying pan with olive oil, sauté garlic and onion until golden, about five minutes. Stir in toasted pine nuts.
5. Drain and add mustard greens. Cook until coated and heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve hot with optional garnishes along with Egyptian Chicken Kebabs and Apostle's Bread. Since the flavor might be too strong for young palates, provide the option of grilled cheese sandwiches with a schmear of yellow mustard.
[Editor’s note: The plant which Jesus refers to in the mustard seed parable was likely Brassica nigra or Salvadora perscia, which grows into a large bush. Mustard greens may not be the same plant, but they call to mind the same parable.]
I'm still laughing over my inability to grasp the fact that greens do NOT eventually grow into a bush. I mean, I had a hard time figuring out how it would work. I guess I thought a miracle was involved. Anyway, this is why editors were invented. Thanks, Nurya!
St. Barnabas the Apostle and Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber Dip)
St. Barnabas, one of the Seventy Apostles, played a prominent role in growing the early Christian church through conversion. He worked mostly in Cyprus, a Greek island, and Antioch, a Greek-Roman city in modern-day Turkey. He is known especially for his works with St. Paul (Saul) and his encouragement of St. Mark. Tradition holds that he was the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and was martyred in 61 AD in Salamis, Cyprus. His feast day is June 11.
There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. – Acts 4:36-37
Barnabas was educated and had a knack for encouraging people in the way of Jesus Christ. He saw something deeper in them that others couldn’t always see. For example, after Saul, the brutal prosecutor of Christians, experienced his conversion, Barnabas saw Saul as being sincere and valuable to their mission. He stood up for Saul among the apostles who feared him and his earlier deeds:
Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. – Acts 9:27
Later, Barnabas was chosen by the apostles to assist in the conversion of Hellenists (Greek Jews) in Antioch:
When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion for he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.
So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” – Acts 11:23-26
In the years they worked and traveled together, Saul became Paul and the more outspoken of the two:
After some days, Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company: Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. – Acts 15:36-40
Barnabas accepted Mark and, no doubt, encouraged him in his mission. Mark then traveled to Rome to study with Peter where he grew in knowledge and confidence. Later, Mark returned to Paul who soon referred to him as someone valuable in his work.
The other day, I happened to mention to my 20-year-old son that I was researching St. Barnabas. He said, “The purple saint?”
Ha! But, then again, Barney the purple dinosaur, was nothing if not an encourager of young children. My son, for one, loved him. Probably in much the same way that early converts, fellow apostles, and his younger cousin loved St. Barnabas.
St. Barnabas shows us how to create a space of acceptance and encouragement for our children and youth where they can discover ways to grow their own faith.
We can also encourage them to honor St. Barnabas and eat their vegetables by mixing up a batch of Tzatziki, a version of which was a part of the every-day meal in Cyprus and other biblical cities.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 large English cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated, strained
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
1. Squeeze handfuls of grated cucumber to remove liquid. Place in medium-size bowl.
2. Add all other ingredients. Stir.
3. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least two hours so that flavors can blend.
4. Blot off any liquid that rose to top. Stir.
Serve as a dipping sauce with roasted meats such as , triangles of Apostle's Bread, or raw vegetables and fruit.
St. Peter and St. Paul Apostles & Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini
Peter and St. Paul, Apostles, were martyred in Rome in 64 A.D. The Episcopal Church celebrates their sacrifice with a feast day on June 29. They are remembered as great teachers and fathers of the Christian Church.
Jesus called Simon, whose name he changed to Peter, to follow him, thereby setting the stage for Peter to learn as much about himself as he did about God. Among the many things Peter learned is that fear can make people do things they’ll later regret. How bitterly he wept when he realized that he had indeed, just as Jesus predicted, denied knowing him three times. (See .)
Later, after the Risen Jesus appeared on the shoreline and shared breakfast with several apostles, he questioned Peter. (See .) John’s Gospel doesn’t describe how Peter felt when he understood that Jesus held him accountable for his betrayal and allowed him to make amends, but we can imagine. With each declaration of Peter’s love, Jesus gave him an assignment and then indicated that Peter would later die for him. This incident cleansed Peter’s heart and fortified him for his future works.
St. Paul, earlier known as Saul, was a well-educated Roman citizen from a strict Jewish sect. He approved of and witnessed the stoning death of St. Stephen, the first Martyr of the Christian Church. (See .) He became a brutal persecutor of what he believed to be a band of heretics.
Why was he so brutal? As Saul walked along the road to Damascus, Jesus called down from Heaven in a flash of blinding light and asked him this same question:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” - Acts 9:4-6
Saul endured three days without eyesight, food, or drink in a house where he was watched over. Then a disciple arrived:
He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. -Acts 9:17-19
Saul/Paul set out to preach, convert, and establish new Christian churches throughout the land. The story of Paul’s works in Acts, as well as in his own writings, especially Galatians, has served as a sort of Christian code based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I’m fascinated by the way Jesus handled the sins of these two men. He forgave, through accountability, the one who acted in fear but with a pure heart. He healed with clear sight the one with the misguided understanding of his purpose. The forgiveness of Peter gives us hope that in confession we are forgiven, and the conversion of Paul gives us hope that prayer and communication can open the eyes of those who have lost their way in the dark.
Peter and Paul worked together along with other apostles. Paul remained a stickler to the Christian code of behavior. For example, he believed that Jesus taught that the apostles should eat with the Gentiles whom they were converting, and not follow strict Jewish laws about ritual cleanliness. Even though Peter had a vision showing him this same teaching, (), he and Barnabas were rather easily swayed to follow the custom of the community in which they were staying. Paul lectured them and wrote a great rant about the incident in .
Peter then left for Rome, where he’s remembered as the first pope, and Paul prepared to travel with Barnabas to visit all the Christian communities they had established together. But when Barnabas said he wanted to take Mark with them, Paul had had enough and refused to allow someone who had earlier abandoned their mission to now join them. So they broke up and set out on different journeys.
And yet. Barnabas, Peter, and Paul all influenced the young apostle, Mark. First Barnabas encouraged him along his journey, next Peter taught him everything he knew about Jesus’s three-year ministry, and then Paul accepted Mark back into his circle, praised his work and gave him the space to write his Gospel based on Peter’s teachings. Despite their differences, Barnabas, Peter, and Paul were able to focus on the important work of growing Christians.
We can do that, too.
And when we break bread together, we can enjoy this appetizer made with first-century Roman ingredients:
Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini
1 loaf crusty Italian bread
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup goat cheese
1/4 cup fig jam
1 pint fresh figs, sliced
(Since fresh figs are seasonal, apple slices would make a great swap because early Romans loved apples and propagated them throughout their empire.)
1. Slice bread, brush with olive oil, and toast.
2. Spread toasted slices with cheese.
3. Carefully spread jam on top of the cheese.
4. Set a sliced piece of fruit on top of each and serve as a snack or appetizer.
I'm happy to be a part of Grow Christians, a collection of writers organized and edited by Rev. Nurya Love Parish that shows us ways to grow Christians in our own lives and works.
And since we all become saints in the Communion of Christ upon baptism, we can think of ourselves as saints growing saints.