Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Happily Ever After? How to End Modest Musings on Mark

I was not sure how to approach a final post for my Lenten journey through the Gospel of Mark. There is so much that could be said about Jesus' cursing of a fig tree that buttresses (and interprets) his temple cleansing fiasco. I could play with Jesus' encounter with the scribes, both those who are "not far from the kingdom of God" (12:28-34) and those condemned for the unjust, hypocritical, and exploitative "religious" practices (12:38-41). I could underscore the contrasting faith and generosity of the widow, despite being trampled upon by the same scribal class (12:41-44). Still, this does not even scratch the surface. There is Mark's epic apocalyptic references, hints and guesses of a pending temple destruction, another fig-tree object lesson, the Syrophoenician woman, a woman's annonting of Jesus in Bethany, and the Passion narrative- from betrayal to cross, burial to empty tomb. Again, there are so many elements left to explore. How should a blogger end his modest musings on Mark?

What I know is that if I was the writer of Mark's gospel, I would not have ended my modest musings the way he did:

"So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (16:8).

In fact, I suggest that there may have been members of the early church that were also dissatisfied with Mark's ending. After all, what legacy would be left in regards to the disciples and early church when the final words of this gospel illustrates disciples, upon an encounter with an empty tomb, still in disbelief, fear, maybe even hard-hearted? It offers no resolution and no clean and orthodox theological exhortations.

So they added their own. [1]

A disciple or collection of early Christians, with a fondness for brevity, cleaned it up with fresh language:

"And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation" (16:8)

Then there were those who felt more was still to be said. Jesus, in their minds, unleashed them from the "secrecy motif" and commanded them:

"'Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned'...And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it" (16:15-16, 20).

But none of that sounds like Mark. They are too polished, too liturgical, too evangelistic, and too much like imperialism. It doesn't even feel native to the discipleship journey and the Way of Jesus that has been carved throughout the first 15 chapters of Mark's Jesus story:

conflict with authorities;

subversion of empire and establishment;

challenge of economic systems and societal oppression;

crossing social boundaries and borders;

embrace of those on the periphery;

casting out demons;

declaring the unclean clean;

warnings that disciples of the Way will be marked as criminal and forced to carry a cross.

This is the stuff that caused fear and trembling. It still causes fear and trembling. Even more, it causes us to pause and ponder the significance of the life, death, and resurrection of this Human One called Jesus. Will we heed his call and follow as disciple? Will we embody the Way of God's kingdom in our socio-political context?

Yet, that is all washed away with these additions foreign to Mark's messianic mosaic.

So, where does a blogger end his modest musings on Mark? The same way as the true gospel writer- with a messy and disturbing question:

Will I follow or will I fear?

This is the only way to end that seems appropriate and consistent with the Jesus story as told by Mark. The Way of Jesus is not easy. The Way of Jesus is not clean, polished, or able to be reduced into plithy statements or catch phrases. The Way of Jesus asks more questions than poses answers- really raw, honest, and subversive questions of invitation and liberation.

Myers says it best:

"For Mark, the resurrection is not an answer, but the final question. There is only one genuine 'witness' to the risen Jesus: to follow in discipleship. Only in this way will the truth of the resurrection be preserved" (Binding the Strong Man 404).

This Holy Week I quest to ask more questions than spit out answers. Even more, I covenant to live into cruciform and resurrection questions, this week and every week hereafter, with neighbors and enemies alike.

And I do so somewhat fearful, certainly hopeful.

That's how this blogger ends modest musings on least for now.


[1] Myers writes, "The longer endings...represent the work of those who cannot see the meaning of 16:8 as an invitiation to which to respond, but only as a scandal that must properly be resolved. instead of disturbing questions that reflect the human struggle and ambiguity of practice, we have pat answers...We might, for the sake of argument, even refer to these longer endings as 'imperial rewritings' of Mark, which symbolize our unending efforts to domesticate the Gospel. Life in the imperial sphere depends upon triumphal narrative: the eleventh-hour Hollywood rescues, the arrival of the calvary, the 'happily ever after.' Such endings allow us to avoid confronting ourselves, our mistakes, our frailty" (Binding the Strong Man 402)

***A great read on how we have "chocolate-coated" Easter as the privileged church in America, removing the resurrection's initial subversive and fearful nature in the midst of an oppressive Roman Empire: "Easter Faith and Empire: Recovering the Prophetic Tradition on the Emmaus Road."