A Wold of Terror Needs the Longer Ending of Mark

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.

See Post Here

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.

  1. Wright, N.T.,  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), 2006.

Jesus, Apologetics, and SnapChat

I currently teach two different courses: Apologetics and New Testament.  I came into the year convinced that I would love and be refreshed by the New Testament course.  I mean how can you read through the Gospels and not be overwhelmed by the love and beauty of Jesus?!  I think Apologetics is a worthy and necessary class, but it is quite a different animal.

But something unexpected happened….this year I have enjoyed teaching Apologetics much more than the New Testament.  I think this largely has to do with the overwhelmingly positive response from my Apologetic’s students and the surprisingly negative response from my New Testament students.  I should add that I still enjoy and get pumped over my New Testament material, but it’s hard to not let my student’s responses affect me.  This has made me ask the question why?  Why do high school students seem to enjoy apologetics more than reading the New Testament?  Here are some theories I have come up with:

1) This is more of a disclaimer — Every new batch of students is different.  I always have to be cautious generalizing my limited experience and applying it to all high schoolers everywhere.  I know that there are many of my students who enjoy the New Testament class, but at least this year they seem to be in the minority.

2) High schoolers hate reading….period.  My Apologetics class has significantly less reading, but you cannot get around reading the New Testament if you want to know Jesus.  The Bible is largely viewed as boring and unfortunately familiar.  However, as soon as I try to make the Bible a little strange to them I am quickly met with animosity.  This is most clearly seen when we read through Jesus’ commands against violence.  My mere suggestion that Jesus’ commands should be wrestled with are quickly rejected in favor of the image of a warrior God.  A close second is pointing out that Jesus’ views on money tend to fly in the face of free market capitalism.  The cries of protest are so quick and loud that its almost counterproductive to mention them.  The Bible is strangely revered by young Evangelicals, it is the book that they both love and hate.  It is where they get their assurance (or their foundation for being right) but they edit or miss out on all the challenges it has for their lives.  (I should also add that this is not solely a problem with high schoolers, but with fallen humans in general).  Again, this is largely due to the very mundane fact that they simply don’t want to read it.  I feel like I finally understand what Jesus was getting at in John 5:39-40.  They search the scriptures and yet miss that they are pointing to Jesus.  Je

3) Apologetics is a battleground.  The course focuses on articulating arguments and demands quick thinking from my students.  This is an exciting break from their typical day.  I honestly think they like being kept on their toes.  Apologetics creates a relatively safe space for a discussion and high schoolers love to debate.  And who wouldn’t get a thrill out of getting proven right through some rigorous argumentation.  Apologetics is attractive because the students feel like they are finally getting to think for themselves.

4) Clobber Texts:  The New Testament is scripture and as such it contains information that we don’t get to make up, we simply need to have ears to hear.  Unfortunately, many people like to shout scripture at others without ever listening to the text themselves.  I get the sense that my students feel preached at or judged when we go through the New Testament.  In one sense they are understanding the role of scripture, which is supposed to examine our hearts through the Spirit.  But this is of course not the only role of Scripture. Scripture also tells us who God is so that the more we know about him the more deeply we love him.  The problem is that it is hard to convince my students of this truth when they see so many Christians in the pulpit or on tv using scripture to beat someone up.  It is to the point where they almost mistrust anyone who claims to be an authority on scripture because that is what they expect them to do with it.  This is why I think many of them shut down when I try to get them to wrestle with the radical commands of Jesus.  They are viewing these texts as just one more reason why God or Christians are judging them, waiting for them to make a mistake.

So now what?

What can I do to cultivate a love of reading slowly in a fast-paced world?

How do I show them that the purpose of reading scripture is ultimately to enjoy God and to be conformed to his image?

How in the world can I compete with Netflix, Tumblr, and SnapChat?

I know that the one thing I have to resist is trying to make the Bible like Netflix, Tumblr, or SnapChat.  If the church is to have any future at all it must learn that what it has to offer is distinctively different from what the world offers.  And one of the things that is distinctive about the Christian faith is the God we come to know through Jesus. If we resist making the Bible like Tumblr we also must resist turning the Bible into a tool for power.  This resistance can only be assured by meditating on our crucified Lord.  One of my fears with an emphasis on Apologetics is that it is used in a way that makes Christians feel superior.  I don’t think this is a problem with Apologetics itself, but that modern Apologetics has unfortunately been co-opted by the Enlightenment project (that is a topic for a whole other blog post).  So while I may not have many practical solutions to my current dilema, I will continue to trust that as my students keep reading the scriptures they will also deepen in their knowledge and love of the One revealed in its pages.

Reflections after an Extra Spiritual Week

The school where I teach just had their Spiritual Emphasis Week.  The week’s purpose is pretty clearly outlined in the title.  It is meant to be a week where the entire school attempts to slow down and draw close to God.

As a Bible teacher at a Christian school it is safe to assume that I am a fan of Christian education.  If I could afford it, I would want my future children to attend a Christian school.  Both my husband and I went to Christian/College Prep high schools, and we were both very blessed by the experience

But after this week I am starting to see some of the limits of Christian education.  And the limitation is mainly one of identity.

Our school is not a confessional school, which means you do not have to be a Christian in order to attend.  I think this is actually a good thing.  It provides a very interesting challenge in my classroom that I believe on the whole has been both very rewarding for the students and for me.  My class is unapologetically confessional, but since it is a classroom environment I am able to weave my confession into a conversation.  I am able to show my students that even though this is my confession it is okay to disagree with me.  My classroom is clearly not the church and there is no possible way to confuse it with one.  My classroom, put maybe too simply, is the world.

But the lines between the church and the world start to blur when we go to chapel on Thursday.  Chapel consists of the liturgical acts of worship, prayer, and reading scripture.  A message is preached and some kind of a response to the homily is expected.  This would be a wonderful thing if the school was actually a church.

The church consists of a community of believers who come together once a week to celebrate the same confession: Jesus is king.  The church by its very nature crosses boundaries of age, race, and socio-economic status.  The church is a sanctuary, a safe place for those who may have taken a beating during the week, and have come to hear God’s word read over their lives.  This word acts as both a balm and a fire so that they may then go out and be witnesses to the world once again.  This is what my church is to me, and while I love my school where I teach, it will never be able to do this.  Because a Christian school is not and can never be a church.

Chapel on Thursdays is structured like a church service.  It is structured as a confessional act.  But what happens when you bring non-confessors into a confessional environment?  Should we really be surprised when they don’t join us in a celebration that they do not even recognize?

This is why Spiritual Emphasis Week is traditionally a very hard week for me.  I feel like the worst Bible teacher in all of history because after almost every chapel I don’t feel like I have celebrated with my family.  I feel a little beaten up.  I look across the aisle and see students sleeping in their chairs or making a bee line for the bathroom.  I can handle this for one hour, once a week, but after four chapels my spirit has usually been broken.  Again, I’m not saying that I blame the students or that I’m surprised when teenagers act like teenagers.  But four consecutive chapels at a Christian school make one thing abundantly clear.  We will always become frustrated when we try to force the world to act like the church.

Why the Left Behind Series Should be Left Behind

With the upcoming Left Behind movie, I thought I’d resurrect one of my old posts on the topic. Happy watching!

Cruciform Theology

As promised, here is my follow up post on the apocalyptic imagination of second temple Judaism. 

A common assumption found in Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series is that the ultimate aim of apocalyptic texts like Revelation and Daniel is to provide a detailed, if coded, blueprint of future events.  Prophecy has no other purpose than this.  This becomes problematic when we start reading both prophetic and apocalyptic texts.  The major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures seem to have a different goal.  The aim of these texts is not primarily in providing a detailed forecast of events, but to present a possible future based on Israel’s repentance or lack thereof.  The goal of Biblical prophecy is to encourage the faithful and challenge the wicked to repentance. 

If you are fans of the Left Behind series, you may interject here that this is indeed what Tim Lahaye is trying to…

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Comedians and Curbside Prophets

It was in N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Christian, where he observes that both laughter and tears clue us into the fact that something has gone wrong in the world.  This statement came alive to me while reading a recent blog post.  The author came up with 15 episode ideas for Seinfeld if it were still running today.  The beauty of Seinfeld was that it took scenarios that we would describe as common, mundane, and typical and would point out their insanity.  The show subverted our values/neurosis with brilliance and seemingly lack of effort.

In this way, comedy actually plays a prophetic role in our society.

Now by prophecy I am not talking about a power to predict the future, but prophecy in terms of the ancient prophets in the Hebrew Bible.  Prophets were given a special kind of authority by God, usually empowered by the Spirit, in order to urge their people to see the error of their ways and repent.  Prophecy is truth telling through powerful, symbolic acts with the goal of righteousness and justice.  Prophets had a heightened sensitivity to the injustices around them, which usually led to their own despair (i.e. Jeremiah).

Comedy is a gift because it is one of the few forms of truth telling that our society is willing to hear. And the truth it is trying to tell us is that something has gone drastically wrong.  Comedy depends on this for every punch line (okay, maybe not knock, knock jokes).  Think of the following as prime examples of this: Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Stuff Christians Like, Stuff White People Like, The Onion, and the list goes on.

Through the guise of shallow entertainment we have invited these comedians into our hearts.  They’re clever lines aim right for our subconscious and consciences.  Now sometimes they miss and go straight over our heads, but for those with eyes to see and ears to listen we start to hear the cries of the victims of our broken world.

I wish the American church had half of the prophetic power of these comedians.  Truth telling is a vital role of the church, but we have warped it in the same way we have a warped our understanding of prophecy (Left Behind…need I say more).  We are so obsessed with assigning blame for the evil around us (i.e. “Thanks, Obama”) that we miss the evil that resides within us.  Truth telling has become a power play– a way to fill up the seats.

So what has made these comedians so successful and what, if anything, can the church learn from them?

1. Comedians consider their audience.  A good comedian knows what kind of demographic they’re going to attract and tailors their material accordingly (Jeff Foxworthy comes to mind).  This is rhetoric 101.  If you want to move or stir your audience, you have to consider what they value and how they think.  This does not mean that we change what the gospel is, but that, as Paul says, we become “all things to all people.”

I was at an assembly where an elder stood in front of a largely teenage audience and said that America was going to fall into ruin because of its tolerance of homosexuality.  Here is a classic example of the church thinking they are taking on the role of a prophet when in truth they’re just being a jerk.  Truth telling is not bullying, and if you’re not sure of the difference I recommend befriending a homosexual or any other person who has been marginalized/victimized by the church.  The American church for far too long has played the victim, when they are more often than not the bully.

2. A Comedians’ worldview is shaped by their task.  I loved the show Everybody Loves Raymond. One of the writers came to work and shared that he had accidentally recorded over his wedding video.  On the night of their anniversary he popped in the video and to his and his wife’s horror, their wedding day was now a football game.  The writers knew that his unfortunate mistake was a goldmine for the show and immediately started writing the episode for it.  They confessed at the end of the series that many of their episodes were drawn from their own lives.

A comedian is never off the job.  Every experience could be a potential punch line or sketch.  They can’t afford to turn off this part of their brain because they might miss something.  Most comedians are saturated in their craft, which means that they can’t help but think a bit differently than the rest of us.

Christians need to adopt this kind of transformative thinking.  Our minds need to be saturated with the words of the Sermon on the Mount, the cries of Lamentations, and the prayers of the saints.  Perhaps when we have become so saturated our truth telling will seem more authentic and feel less like a party line.

Unlike these comedians, the prophets of Israel were not very popular with their audience.  Speaking the truth confronts injustice and so it will always ruffle some feathers.  Nevertheless, the church has a vital role to play by simply speaking the truth.  This is why we must constantly examine our hearts to fight against any hidden agendas or desires for power.  Truth speaking is always cruciform (cross–shaped).  The church will never be the city on a hill by casting stones, but by taking sin’s weight (with all of its guilt, shame, and despair) off of the world and placing it on its shoulders.  For when we take on the wounds of the world we start to look a whole lot more like Jesus.