Do not be amazed!

May 24, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we begin the last chapter of Mark. I’m taking the good news from Mark 16:1-8.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'” Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark’s story of the resurrection is the shortest by far of the four gospels and doesn’t include mention of the appearance of the risen Jesus. This passage is the ending of Mark’s gospel in the earliest manuscripts, although some scholars believe that additional verses may have been lost. Others think that is highly unlikely with no evidence to support it. Most scholars agree that scribes making copies of Mark’s manuscript years later were dissatisfied with the ending — that the women told no one despite the directive of the young man inside the tomb. Each of the other three gospel writers ended the resurrection story in much different ways, perhaps also unhappy with Mark’s abrupt account. The Council of Trent in the mid-1500s accepted a longer ending as part of the canon even though it is generally thought to have been written by a different author in the second century.

Amazement. The Greek word in the gospel is literally translated as “amazed out of themselves” as a way to heighten the description of the women’s reaction rather like being scared out of your wits. That makes sense of the young man’s response, “Do not be amazed!” Fear is a continuing thread in the gospels as well as the Hebrew Bible. Fear has a death-like grip on us, it seems, that only Jesus’ resurrection can break.

As Jesus was nearing his arrest and death the disciples were overcome by fear, abandoning and denying him. At his death and then with his resurrection, the women succumbed to fear first “looking on from a distance” as he expired to watching from a distance as Joseph laid him in the tomb to fleeing the tomb, seized with fear. How many times did Jesus tell his disciples and followers not to be afraid as reassurance and encouragement? I don’t know, but it was often and apparently to little effect. Fear is deeply imbedded in each of us.

Moloney in The Gospel of Mark believes that Mark was making this point, “In the end, all human beings fail…but God succeeds. God has raised Jesus from the dead; the Father has not abandoned the Son. The same God will also raise the disciples, men and women, from their failure. They will see the risen Lord in Galilee, but not because the disciples or the women succeed….As Christian disciples continue to fail and flee in fear, they are told that God’s action in and through the risen Jesus overcomes all such failure….The conclusion to Marks’ Gospel is not a message of failure, but a resounding affirmation of God’s design to overcome all imaginable human failure in and through the action of God’s beloved Son.

Morna Hooker in The Gospel According to St. Mark concludes, “This is the end of Mark’s story, because it is the beginning of discipleship.” I like that notion. Discipleship, stemming from the first disciples, means accepting my failures and looking to Jesus for forgiving love so that I can once again shoulder his cross, taking up his mission to bring compassion and justice to the world. In spite of my fear of failure, my fear of the unknown, my fear of harm or death, and in spite of my inevitable failures, God will raise me up. He will take the initiative in loving me and He will give me what I need to be a disciple of Jesus. Acting on that belief is the beginning of discipleship. Do not be amazed at what God can accomplish through me if I live in Jesus.



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