A few years ago I was reading Mark’s Gospel and was struck by this note in the text:
[SOME OF THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 16:9-20.]
My commentaries were more definitive: The earliest and best manuscripts do not include 16:9-20. The writing style of those verses is decidedly different from Mark’s and scholars believe the coda was added in the 2nd Century. The details in these verses are all found in the other three Gospels. Trustworthy information… that draws the eye away from Mark’s intended story arc.
Here’s how Mark ended his Gospel:
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark’s Gospel ends with the women coming to the tomb to properly care for the corpse even though Jesus told his disciples more than ten times that he would rise from the dead. At least the women showed up. The disciples were still in hiding, not one had the courage needed to even check to see if Jesus kept his word. Peter was supposed to meet up with Jesus in Galilee (Mark 14:28)but was wrecked by the guilt of betraying Jesus. Jesus conquered sin and death, but his followers’ resume didn’t speak well to his ability to transform lives. The women were commanded to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they were too rattled by angels they told no one.
This is were the curtain is supposed to fall in our reading of Mark.
Why would Mark end his Gospel on such a low note?
Some of the commentators pointed out this wasn’t an uncommon literary technique at the time. Some Greek writers did this to create foreshadowing. We’re certainly left wanting the story to improve.
But I wonder if Mark is also communicating that in the short term Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t fix all wrongs instantly. Jesus died on a cross, not a magic wand. In The Epistle of Romans, Paul lamented that we live with the horrible tension that the old corrupt order of things is dying a slow death and the kingdom is “here, but not yet.”
I wonder if Mark is warning future Christ-followers to not live in denial over our spiritual condition. Religious people dissociate themselves from their sin nature and claim that its been taken care of. Jesus’ followers, meanwhile, own their continuing brokenness and ask Jesus to do something about it.
I wonder if the spotlight on the disciples’ group failure was a protective measure to keep the disciples from drifting into their own brand of Pharisaism and legalism. Their genesis was brutally flawed making humility their only choice.
I wonder if Mark’s ending is a reminder that Jesus’ work is unfinished and that he calls his disciples to water the seed of resurrection until it comes into full bloom.