Mark’s Inappropriate Ending

[Homily. Mark 16:9-15. Live-streamed Mass. 10 April 2021]

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels.  It begins:  “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to which later editors have added, “the Son of God” (Mk 1:1).  This was not just the Gospel that Jesus preached, but the Gospel that Jesus was:  he was the Good News, and the Good News was that he was the Christ, the Messiah.  The high point of Mark’s Gospel is when Jesus, in obedience to the loving will of his Father, dies on the Cross and the Roman centurion who stood facing him said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15:39). 

As John the Evangelist, also contemplating Jesus’ death on the Cross, later said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into to world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn 3:14-16).  The pagan centurion had insight into this truth.

After this high point, where the saving power of God himself breaks through in the image of Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the Cross,  Mark’s resurrection account is very brief.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go early in the morning after the Sabbath, so on Sunday, to the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus.  There they find the heavy stone that sealed the burial site is rolled away.  Inside, they find the tomb empty.  A mysterious young man proclaims that Jesus has been raised.  He instructs them to tell his disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.  The women respond with amazement, then fear.  Mark’s Gospel ends with the statement:  “They [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment.  They said nothing to anyone.  For they were afraid” (Mk.16:8).

It is an abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel, so abrupt and jarring that scripture scholars theorize that Mark’s original ending may have been lost, or that he may have had for some reason to stop writing before the manuscript was actually finished.  For how could Mark’s Good News of Jesus Christ end in such trembling, bewilderment and fear?  The scholars show that later editors of the second century added the ending that we heard in our Gospel reading for today.  It is an ending that leans on earlier traditions recorded in the other Gospels:  Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene;  Jesus appearing to the two disciples walking in the countryside; Jesus appearing to the Eleven.  After Jesus’ appearances to Mary Magdalene and to the two disciples there is disbelief to what they say about Jesus being alive.  In finally visiting the Eleven, Jesus rebukes them for their disbelief.  This introduces a more appropriate ending to the Markan Gospel, Jesus’ mandate to mission: “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…” (Mk 16:13). 

The inappropriate ending, already because of faith being gifted us in the community of believers, demands an appropriate ending.  The Good News that is Jesus Christ, resurrected from the death he embraced in obedience to the Father, cannot end in those closest to Jesus running away in trembling, bewilderment and fear, unable to share the truth they had heard.  That is also true for us.  From the depths of the faith that is gifted us, in a world where human life is eroded in widespread rejection of God and death stalks the living with a cruel inevitability, we are allowed, if not empowered in grace, to write a different ending, where as close as we are to Jesus, he appears to us as a consoling lover, or as a companion along the way helping us to see, or as the Lord of our life mission, to tell us he is alive, and that the point of his Resurrection is not depression and paralysis but empowerment to share the Good News that is Jesus Christ, alive.   That is certainly true when the virulence of the pandemic appears so overwhelming, or the bad news in social media is so personally hurtful, or the common weal so persistently spurned by the servants of the public good that we are all infected by social cynicism, or the violence in Myanmar against its youth so needlessly cruel, while the world responds only with helpless incredulity and sadness.  The truth of the Resurrection is that in our lives as well Jesus appears.  He is not a ghost, not a figment of our imagination, not an illusion.  But he appears in his own time, in his own style, to bring life, hope, change and courage.  And to make us part of it through belief and commitment.  Even if, in an imperfect world we must pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24).   Or cry, “My Lord and my God”  (Jn 20:28). 

Our St. Ignatius also felt all the four Gospels ended inappropriately.  In his view, the first person the Risen Lord appeared to was not Mary Magdalene nor the disciples along the way nor the Eleven, but his mother, who had accompanied him on his Calvary to the foot of the Cross, watched him die by tortuous crucifixion, then his side pierced by a soldier’s lance, and when he’d finally been taken down from the Cross held him on her lap, her own soul “pierced by a sword” (Lk 2:35).  Anyone who does not see it was his mother he first appeared to, Ignatius declared, is “without understanding” – without insight into the personal relationship of Jesus to his mother. Happily, in the Philippine Church Jesus’ appearing to his mother first has become an integral part of the people’s celebration of Easter when in the Salubong before the dawn of Easter Sunday morning, the joyful procession of the Risen Lord meets the procession of the grieving Mother of Sorrows, and an angel – really just one of our children! – removes her veil of sorrow, while all sing joyously:  “Regina caeli, Reyna ng langit, Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia!  For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia! Has risen as he said, alleluia!”  In our Assumption Chapel this is depicted in the image of the Risen Lord leading all the rejoicing peoples of Mindanao to take away the sorrows of violence, warfare, social injustice, oppression and massacres in the history of Mindanao represented in his sorrowing mother.  In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius suggests that in regarding the Resurrected Lord we ask for the grace to “feel the intense joy and gladness for the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.”  This is a grace for which we must not tire to ask.  Especially when we are tempted to become morose in the darkness our generation generates on this wounded planet, we remember his word from the Cross to John ultimately spoken to us all,  “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19:27).  She brings us without fail to her Resurrected Son. She brings us to his power and his joy.   “Never was it know that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided,” we remind her again and again, because she really helps.  This is in my faith experience; I pray it is also in yours.    She teaches us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).   Till today, she intervenes to ask him to change water into wine, bewilderment into hope, fear into courage; in her risen Son she helps us to see the Glory of God breaking into our lives. 

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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