This past Sunday I was asked to preach the last section in the Gospel of Mark. Mike then asked if I would write a blog post that would serve as a response to his earlier post on the original ending, which stops at verse eight.
Mike and I are in agreement about one thing, verses 9–20 are most certainly not original to the Gospel of Mark. The question that I hope to answer in this post is this:
Do these verses, nonetheless, have something to say to our terror filled world?
My humble answer to that question is yes, or more specifically, we need both endings and we need their differences pushed together side by side.
As I was researching for my sermon I was only able to find one blog post that had anything positive to say about this text: See post
Everything else I found either defended the text’s originality or advised the readers to ignore this section altogether. Since it is not part of the original gospel why bother stirring things up for your congregation. Better to leave it where it ends, nice and neat.
Both of these approaches in my opinion are problematic. Even if virtually everyone agrees that it is not part of the original gospel, this does not mean that it is not scripture or that it does not have anything for us today.
This longer ending was not the only addition to the Gospel of Mark. There was a shorter ending that was also added after verse 8. This addition however did not stand the test of time. For some reason this longer ending that we now have in Mark was very popular with the church and so it was kept. This alone should give us pause and make us more willing to receive what this text would say to us.
So what can we learn in this longer ending of Mark? Why did the church keep it preserved for us?
In this addition, unlike the original ending of Mark, we have the record of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene. She is the first apostle. Though she is female the later scribe did not airbrush her out. It is important that Jesus chose to appear first to his female disciples. Here, ever so subtly, we see a subversive element of the gospel. The privilege of being the first witness is given to the ones whom at the time are seen as unprivileged. Centuries later the church has not lost this edge. It keeps this shocking detail in full focus.
The disciples refuse to believe Mary, which remains consistent with the other gospel narratives. Jesus then appears to two followers who again are not part of the original eleven. And again the disciples refuse to believe. Lastly, Jesus appears to his disciples and rebukes them for their hardness of heart and unbelief. He then commands them to go into all creation. The anonymous author has upped the ante here and made the Great Commission even more universal in nature.
Jesus promises that signs will accompany their ministry and aid in their mission. This includes that weird bit about being able to pick up snakes and drink poison without being harmed. This is not a command as some denominations have taken it to mean, nor is it a test of a person’s faith or commitment. All the signs that Jesus gives indicate that his kingdom has indeed come and evil has been defeated.
The church believes that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection served as an apocalyptic event. It was the end of a certain world order–the reign of sin, death, evil, sickness, and oppression. The powers of the world have been defeated in an unlikely way, through the sacrificial love of it’s own Creator. The tide has unquestionably been turned, the decisive battle has been fought and won. This is the message the Church carries and must carry to a world that either has not yet heard or refuses to hear this good news.
If there is no longer version of Mark, this message remains hidden. The world is left to its fear and doubt and hardness of heart.
N.T. Wright in Simply Christian likens salvation to waking up to the reality of God. (1) The hope of the Christian message is that the world of pain, terror, and suffering is not the truest form of reality. Christians speak with bold faith that the evil which seems victorious is deceptive. For we believe that evil is a defeated enemy, that it will not have the final word, that good triumphs over evil and love ultimately wins. It sounds naïve, arrogant, and possible insensitive in light of our terror filled world. What Christians must do is live in the uncomfortable tension of claiming victory while we still experience suffering. We can understand that tension only by looking at our cruciform God and victory through the lens of loss, pain, and sacrifice. We cannot agree with the world that evil has won. If we do, we run the risk of being like the children in Narnia whom the White Witch convinces that there is no sun.
The last part of the section ends with the disciples preaching, Jesus ascending to the right hand of God, and promising to work with us. This beautiful addition to Mark gives us one last piece of hope as we continue to live in a world of terror….We do not work alone. Jesus is Immanuel, the one who is with us. We do not derive our energy from our own power but are filled and equipped by his Spirit. This last statement also means there is still much work to do. As the church, while we mourn with those who have endured unspeakable pain, we cannot simply grieve at a distance. We, like the disciples, share the commission to preach this radical good news. For it is at the heart of suffering that the church must always be. For the heart and mission of the church mirrors the heart and cruciform mission of Jesus. In this longer addition to Mark, we find comfort in the one who shares our sorrow, works with us, and seeks to redeem our deepest darkness through sacrificial love.
- Wright, N.T., Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), 2006.
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