The rest of the story

May 28, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Mark 16:9-20, which is usually termed the Longer Ending.

[When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either. [But] later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.]

And the unnumbered verses called the Shorter Ending, which in four seventh-to-ninth century Greek manuscripts appears after 16:8 and before the Longer Ending. In one old Latin manuscript it appears without the Longer Ending.

[And they reported all the instructions briefly to Peter’s companions. Afterwards Jesus himself, through them, sent forth from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.]

I’m not a Biblical scholar, but even to me these passages are very different from the rest of Mark’s gospel in its literary style, images, and, most importantly, the words attributed to Jesus. Surprisingly, the Church still uses the Longer Ending for the gospel reading on the Feast of St. Mark on April 25. Over the years as manuscripts were copied by scribes some would take the liberty of “to make the text grammatically or logically more consistent” according to Moloney in The Gospel of Mark. He points out, thought, that this is the only example in the gospels of an interpretative addition to the original text. In this case it is as if the scribe was trying to tie up all the loose ends, the variances in the other gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, to present a more “appropriate” end to Mark’s story. Moloney and other scholars believe that the principal motivation was to correct the “scandal” of Mark’s original ending, i.e. that the women fled the tomb and told no one of the resurrection. Considering the other gospels, this was not just scandalous, Mark’s ending was factually incorrect.

Though “clumsy” as Moloney puts it, this ending may have been intended both to commission believers to spread the good news and to remind missionaries of the faith that even the apostles failed to believe in the resurrection at first just as the people they were preaching to probably had a hard time accepting it. Just like the apostles, they were empowered by the authority of Jesus sitting at the right hand of his Father. Later, the Council of Trent decided to include this Longer Ending in the canon because the message was deemed to have continuing relevance: the common difficulty in believing in the resurrection, the command to preach the word everywhere, assurance that Jesus will empower his followers to be successful in fulfilling his mission.

I rather like Moloney’s contention, “[T]he author has betrayed one of the fundamental purposes of Mark, the original evangelist, whose version of the story of Jesus closed with the fear, flight, and silence of the women in 16:8….The flight and silence of the women force readers to ask where they stand, relying only upon the action of God to make divine sense of human nonsense. This message is challenging, and not particularly comforting in the light of our repeatedly failing attempts to determine our own future and God’s ways within that future.” I always learn best and most thoroughly by figuring things out for myself instead of being hand-fed, of having loose ends tied up neatly. Mark makes me think for myself, particularly in realizing that the women obviously overcame their fears and came to a belief in and understanding of the resurrection. For me, it makes the resurrection all the more powerful.



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