I read somewhere that Saint Mark the Evangelist is the patron saint of people dealing with insect bites. Now of course, he’s the more notable patron saint of a much larger swath of creation like lions, lawyers, painters, and prisoners, to name a few, but “people dealing with insect bites” caught my attention.
I learned a lot about asking saints to intervene for us when our family attended an Orthodox church for several months many years ago. And to find out I have one particularly interested in intervening between me and the mosquitos?! Saint Mark just moved up in my Lent Madness bracket for perpetuity!
I’m one of those people who walks outside between April and September and instantly has 26 mosquito bites up and down my legs and arms. Grateful for every moment I have outdoors, these nuisance spots are *quite* a distraction. They are irritating, demand my attention, and can scar if I don’t treat them properly (sort of sounds like my children… I jest. Kind of.) The point is: insect bites are an urgent annoyance, and urgency is a theme we see throughout Mark’s gospel.
Mark is urgent about evangelism. And insect bites are an urgent distraction. So I wonder…What are our urgent distractions from our own evangelism work? Are there “insect bites” distracting us from the work we do to share the good news that God loves all of us?
Here are some that come to mind:
- Getting stuck in the muck of theological orthodoxy in a conversation with a seeker who really just needs to know that God loves them. Period.
- A Facebook comment thread where the desire to show that we are workers for justice supersedes the actual work of justice or loving our neighbor.
- Standing firm in a commitment to the way we’ve always done things because that’s how they *should* be, whether or not that reflects the reality of our congregation and larger community.
I find these to be tiny moments in life and ministry that can distract from the actual work we are called to do. Even the work we intend to do. These moments are often inflammatory, and something they have in common is a focus on self and rightness.
My dad and I recently shared one of these moments in our biggest ever, explosive argument. It was awful. We both entered the conversation in rough and emotional places. We both knew we were right based on the knowledge we had. We both knew the other was in a bad spot, but still kept our focus on ourselves. A tiny distraction got the best of us, and our tempers flared. We reconciled later that day and have since shared some helpful texts back and forth, but I keep thinking about the quick escalation. We let the focus on our own pain distract us from our care for and love of each other.
A focus on others is inherent throughout Mark’s Gospel. John the Baptist speaks of one coming more powerful than himself. Jesus tells Andrew and Simon to be fishers of men. Jesus heals on the Sabbath (despite the way they’ve always done things). He appoints twelve others to do the critical work of ministry. Seeds sprout regardless of the work done by the sower. Jesus tells the woman it is her faith, not he, who has healed her. Many times, Jesus tells people not to speak of miracles he performs.
So how do we shift our focus away from ourselves and onto others?
Saint Mark is also the patron saint of opticians; those doctors who help us see. What happens when we work to see the good that people are doing? When we next find ourselves in prayer, perhaps we can appeal to Saint Mark to intervene on our behalf. Maybe not against the bugs, but against the irritations that are really just about us—the self-focused distractions of righteousness that create space between us and evangelism, between us and the Gospel, between us and others. Ask Saint Mark to help us see and encourage the good in others’ work and being and to love above and beyond the irritations.