May 16, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Mark’s mother and Rhoda

John F. Fink(Fortieth in a series of columns)

Poor Rhoda. When this incident happened, she never expected that we would be reading about it almost 2,000 years later.

I guess that Luke thought it was so funny that he couldn’t resist inserting it when he wrote his Acts of the Apostles. It’s a change from most of Acts, which is all so serious.

In fact, the chapter that reports the incident, Chapter 12, couldn’t be much more serious because it begins with King Herod Agrippa executing the Apostle James. Then he arrested Peter and put him in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He obviously was determined that Peter wouldn’t escape.

But Peter did. While he was sleeping between two soldiers, an angel tapped him on his side and told him to get up. The chains fell from his wrists. The angel told him to put on his cloak, belt and sandals, and to follow him. They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to an iron gate leading out to the city, which opened by itself. After they emerged and were walking down an alley, the angel left him.

All this time, Peter had thought he was having a dream, but he finally recovered his senses and realized that the angel had rescued him. He made his way to the home of Mary, the mother of a disciple named John, but who was called Mark. Many of Peter’s friends and followers were assembled there in prayer. Mary’s home seems to have been the gathering place for the Christians in Jerusalem.

Rhoda was a maid in Mary’s home. Peter knocked on the gateway door, and Rhoda answered it. She asked who was there.

When she recognized Peter’s voice, instead of opening the door, she ran to tell the others that Peter was at the gate. They told her that she must be out of her mind, but she insisted that Peter was there.

Meanwhile, poor Peter was left standing at the door, still knocking to get in. Finally, someone had the sense to open the door and let him in. He quietly explained what had happened to him, and told those present to report it to James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and to the other Apostles. Then, hoping not to endanger those present, he left and went someplace else.

When Herod Agrippa discovered the next day that Peter had escaped, he ordered the guards to be tried and executed.

Mary’s son, John, who was called Mark, later accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but deserted them. When they were planning their second trip, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again, but Paul refused to take him. So Paul and Barnabas separated, and Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus.

In Jerusalem today, St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church is built on the site of John Mark’s mother’s home. When I was there in 1997 during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, one of our prayer services was held there.

(This series on biblical women has been published in book form by Alba House. Biblical Women can be ordered by calling 800-343-2522 [ALBA] or on the Web at, or through The price is $9.95 plus shipping.) †

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