Mark came from a Hellenized Jewish family, as is clear from his name ‘John Mark’.
He was the son of Mary, a prominent member of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, a friend of Peter, and at whose house the disciples were accustomed to assemble. Some believe that it was here that the last supper was celebrated by Jesus, and it was in the olive garden which belonged to the family that Jesus was arrested that very night, Mark being the unnamed young man who escaped naked from the hands of the mob, as described in his passion narrative.
John Mark however comes to prominence in the Acts of the Apostles. He is a cousin of Barnabas, and accompanies him and Paul on their first missionary journey. There were disagreements however, as a result of which Mark and Barnabas later separate from Paul. Mark however reconciles with Paul, and is with him during his imprisonment in Rome.
Mark was also close to Peter, who refers to him in one of his letters. It is believed that he acted as Peter’s secretary and interpreter, and that his Gospel is a faithful record of the teaching of Peter. The Gospel was written in Greek, probably in Rome, and many believe it was the first to be written. Mark is the only writer who entitles his book, the evangelion, the “good news”, the gospel. In this Mark follows Paul for whom the ‘good news’ was both the act of proclaiming Jesus as saviour, as well as the content of what Jesus taught.
For Mark, the Gospel is not so much a historical account of Jesus’s life and works, as a proclamation of the Risen Jesus who is alive and present in his Church. The ‘reign of God’ which Jesus proclaims is not so much a body of doctrine but a secret or mystery which Jesus only reveals to his disciples. To know this mystery is to accept the invitation to a closer relationship with Jesus. This is what it means to “believe” in Christ.
Although Mark is thought to have died in Alexandria, Egypt, around 68, it is the city of Venice in Italy which keeps his relics, and of which he is the patron.