Today is day sixteen in the ninety days of reading through the New Testament, and it is the final day in the Gospel of Mark. The reading is Mark 16, the last chapter in the gospel.
And it is the return of the hero.
One sort of scholarly note, though. Most of your bibles will indicate that Mark 16:9-20 is not found in early manuscripts, which would mean that what is available, and originally from Mark, ends with 16:8.
That is a true assessment, but what is truer is that if this is the case, 16:9-20 were probably not written by Mark. But there’s a lot of research done on this subject, and lots of dispute. Here is an excellent clearinghouse site, which, in great detail, lists various scholars and their thoughts from this passage. For us, here, though, it matters little.
Because for me, and this blog today, Mark’s story, as he told it, ends with 16:8.
Mark probably did not want his gospel to end this way, though, and it’s assumed that somewhere, through the long scope of history, the final bit of his writings have been lost to us. Whatever the case, there is a certain charm in these eight verses.
Because it’s raw. As raw as life. As raw as our own experience with Jesus.
There are only three women present at the end of this story. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. No other disciples. No other friends.
But these three women are special in this story. They are the string Mark uses to tell the final part of his hero gospel. Here they are, in three different verses:
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:38-41)
And here, at his burial:
So Joseph brought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (15:46,, 47)
And, finally, as they discover an empty tomb:
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (16:1)
These women saw Jesus die, watched his body being placed in a tomb, but did not see Jesus walk out. Nor did they expect him to. They brought spices to care for his corpse.
We draw the fact, from Mark and Luke (two gospels which borrowed heavily from Mark), that these two women did, later, see Jesus. But here, in verse 8, they do not.
They did see a young man, though. Angelic in appearance. His first words were for them to not be afraid. And that sort of sentence is only said by a representative of the divine — before anything else is said.
Jesus has risen, and now he is returning to Galilee, this man tells them. The Christ is returning to the very place where his ministry began in the gospel of Mark. And he wants to see the disciples.
Jesus, the hero, is on the move, with no time to wait for these ladies. There are things he must accomplish.
And, so, Mark ends with action, yet leaves us in suspense with these women, who, as Mark writes, were “trembling and bewildered.” They “fled from the tomb” without talking to anyone, “because they were afraid.”
In spite of their witness to his death and his burial, and an angel in the tomb, we see, in them, our own failures.
Because how much evidence is really enough? How much of God do you really need to see?
And while we sit and ponder and study and translate the Greek, Jesus is on the move.
Hearts are in need of restoration. Jesus’ first thought, as he breathes new breath, is that his disciples need to see him. In spite of their desertion, he still needs to make sure they know he is alive, and well.
And our own hearts are in need of restoration, even while we stay content in the circumstances of our own relationship with Jesus. And in our own frailty, these last few verses prove to us that, really, we can’t have enough evidence. Like these women, we will always find our own moments of fear and confusion with Jesus. We’ll all find our own moments when we refuse to share this extraordinary experience.
I’m sure God isn’t content with that.
But, as Mark writes in 16:7, “He is going ahead of you …”
And if you need more proof, then you better follow where he’s going.
Because the hero has returned, and he is on the move. And you don’t want to miss what’s next.