Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Mitch Reads... Mark 16
I love Mark 16 because of the questions and uncertainties it poses. This is not a clean ending to the gospel story. I feel I can look at this chapter in two ways: it's either a Choose Your Own Adventure where I pick which ending I like, or it's The Return of the King where it keeps ending over and over until I'm begging for the credits to roll because I've been sitting here for three and a half hours and I really have to use the bathroom.
After the Sabbath was over, the two Marys, as well as Salome, bring spices to Jesus' tomb so they may enact the proper burial rituals. On their way, they voice concern over how they were going to move the stone that sealed the tomb. But none of them had apparently planned for that eventuality, so I guess they were just going to improvise when they got there and hope for the best?
Luckily for them, it ends up being a moot point for the stone is already rolled away! Inside is a young man, dressed in white, who tells the women not to be alarmed. Jesus has been raised! See? He is not inside the tomb. He tells them to go tell the disciples, particularly The Rock, that Jesus is headed to Galilee and he will meet them there. Understandably, the women flee the tomb in terror. They say nothing to anyone, for they are afraid.
Thus ends the Sixteenth Chapter of the Gospel of Mark.
This is where Mark gets complicated. Well, it's where Mark continues being complicated. In the earliest manuscripts this is how it ends, with verse 8. Jesus is reportedly raised from the dead (though never seen) and the women at the tomb flee in terror and don't tell anyone. That's not very satisfying. There's not a whole lot of comfort or closure in that ending.
So, a "Shorter Ending" of Mark was presumably tacked on at some point. It's two sentences, saying that the women related this to the disciples and The Rock, and that Jesus himself sent out through them the message of eternal salvation. The style of these two sentences definitely differs from Mark's normal rhythm and vocabulary. But, while it doesn't offer a whole lot more information, it does provide a better conclusion.
Thus ends the Sixteenth Chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Again.
But that's not all! A "Longer Ending" to Mark also appears! It is comprised of verses 9-20. Sometimes it follows the "Shorter Ending," but other times it directly follows verse 8, omitting the "Shorter Ending" all together.
The "Longer Ending" dumps a lot of information on the reader that Mark previously never covered. The resurrected Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had once cast out seven demons. What? So, she goes to the others and tells them all about her encounter with the living Jesus, but no one believes her.
Jesus then appears to two men walking in the country. They too go back to the others, but they don't believe the two either. Finally he appears to the eleven remaining disciples (unless I've missed it, Mark never discloses the final fate of Judas. Because why would he? Details.) and chides them for their lack of faith. How dare they believe unverified reports of someone being raised from the dead! He tells them to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news. As they do so, Jesus will grant them an oddly specific set of superpowers. They will cast out demons, speak in new tongues, be able to pick up snakes in their hands, drink all manner of poisons without ill effects, and be able to heal the sick.
Seriously, Jesus, picking up snakes is a weird power to imbue on your disciples. Being able to drink poison would be a pretty cool party trick, though.
After this, Jesus is taken up into heaven and he sits down at the right hand of God. Well, that's a pretty epic ending. And the disciples went out among the world proclaiming the good news, and Jesus worked through them by all the signs he said would accompany this. I guess that means they picked up a lot of snakes and drank a lot of poison. Also the healing and casting out demons thing, I suppose.
Thus ends the Sixteenth Chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Yet, again.
But which ending is correct?
Well, ending with verse 8 is probably closer to the "original" text, at least as far as we might know. But it is not very satisfying. The "Shorter Ending" helps, but still isn't great. The "Longer Ending" is much better, though still problematic. I see four choices:
1. Ending with verse 8.
2. The "Shorter Ending" following verse 8.
3. The "Longer Ending" that follows verse 8 and omits the "Shorter Ending."
4. The "Longer Ending" that includes and follows the "Shorter Ending."
Whichever ending you choose, it kind of throws a wrench in the thinking of Scripture as the perfect, inerrant Word of God, for you'll be dismissing three other versions (options?) of the Bible. As for me? I like them all. I like the ambiguity and uncertainty they present. I love that the question of how does Mark end invites questions! It's not simple, easy, or pleasant. To read Mark demands that you struggle and wrestle with Mark.
In the end, I feel that this is what I have learned from this exercise. Reading Mark as a whole, as written by an actual, personified author, brought me into a more intimate relation with the text. You may think I've been overly dismissive and disrespectful of this book of Scripture, and I can see that as a valid argument. But struggling with Mark in this manner has given me a new appreciation of this gospel, especially more so than merely picking random, disjointed verses out of it to apply to even more random, disjointed, personal life experiences.
The Gospel of Mark is messy. It raises a lot of questions. Most of those questions probably don't have answers. Ask them anyway. Struggle with them anyway. It's not about the answers. It's about the journey.
Thus ends the Gospel of Mark.
For real this time.