As I come to the end of Mark’s Gospel narrative, I find myself struck with the idea that this is not actually an ending at all, but rather a picture of a new beginning.
To Jerusalem and Back
The repeated call to look and see Jesus on the Way, the Way of the Gospel (the Way of God), is what eventually set my sights on Jerusalem as I continued to read through Mark over these past months. The repeated call to follow Him on this way turned my sights even further towards the cross and the promise of the Resurrection.
And all along the way, on the road to Jerusalem, Mark (in the power of the Spirit, mind you) continued to teach me something about what it means to live into the Kingdom language that saturates his narrative. He taught me that following Christ is about learning to live into the idea of the forgiven and forgiving life.
This is what it means for me to embrace the person and work of Jesus in my own life, the One who positioned Himself in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people in order to demonstrate this forgiven and forgiving life on my behalf. The one who ultimately found Himself hanging on a cross, not with his disciples sitting on his right and left, but between two criminals, in order to give me new life in a world that is so full of suffering and death.
When John the Baptist first arrived on scene and called his audience to turn their eyes in a new direction (to repent), I was left with this feeling that somewhere around the corner, somewhere on the next page, I was bound to find something unexpected. The twists and turns that Mark’s Gospel takes did not disappoint. This Gospel turned out to be a grand and exciting narrative, and even though I have read through it before in the past, what was most unexpected, most surprising about it this time, is just how much of it I had managed to miss.
And for me, granting the general consensus of scholarship which excludes the final portion of the text (16:9-20) as not original and a later addition, the accepted (original) ending of Mark stands as a perfect example of these unexpected places in Mark. It is, in-fact, as I have already said, an ending that managed to bring me all the way back to the beginning- a new beginning if you will. It is an ending that perfectly weaves the conviction of Mark’s opening (the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God) with the uncertainty of his closing (and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid). It is the kind of narrative puzzle that sets our eyes on Jerusalem, only for us to arrive and find that the answer to this narrative puzzle “is not is here” (vs. 6), but somewhere else. And in the Gospel of Mark, where the Gospel really ends (and begins again) is back in Galilee.
Going Before you to Galilee
Scholars continue to puzzle over the meaning of Christ’s return to Galilee in the end of Mark. However, even though there is no way to be certain, I find that Mark seems to use the setting of Galilee to return us to the place in which he began this journey. Here in these early moments, we find Jesus passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, calling his disciples saying,
“Follow me, and I will make you become ‘fishers of men’.”
In the remainder of Mark’s Gospel, we watch as Jesus goes before them and prepares the way for them to follow Him and become fishers of men (“disciples”). Ultimately He goes before them all the Way to the Cross, demonstrating what it means for us to become the least so that others can be first, and to become servant to all for the sake of all.
And now, in the final words of the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus returning to Galilee once again, just as He promised Peter He would in 14:29 (thus his instructions to tell Peter this news by name). He does this in order to show us that the work He accomplished on the Cross, of embodying and conquering the power of death and the principalities that continue to hold our world captive to its sin-full nature, is in-fact not yet completed. The journey continues, and it continues in us. In the light of His Resurrection, we are now given the power to live beyond this curse by becoming a servant to all for the sake of all and calling the world back towards the healing and restoring power of Jesus and His new Way of living.
The Scattering and the Gathering
What is interesting is that Jesus’ promise to Peter in 14:29, the promise that He would go before him to Galilee following His Resurrection, seems intimately connected with the image of the scattering in this same verse. That the sheep will be scattered and will fall away is something that conjures up a continued theme of exile and slavery in the Israelite/Jewish story. “BUT” I will rise, and I will go before you to Galilee in order to call my people home once again, once and for all, just as I promised, just as you expected.
Thus, this move back to Galilee is a picture of what God is up to, has been up to, in moving His people out of exile and towards freedom from the sin that continued to hold them captive. The Cross and the Resurrection is God’s answer to the Jewish expectation of a new and restored Kingdom, and in Galilee we find a small picture of this restorative Kingdom, this return from exile, in the gathering of His early followers. Only for Mark, it is in Jesus that this Jewish expectation, this new and restorative Kingdom, also becomes the answer for the world at large.
This truly is an ending that sparks the promise of a new beginning, the beginning of the restoration of the whole created order.
What’s more is that this notion of “scattering” and “gathering” comes out of the Old Testament story of Zechariah, and what is significant about this picture in Zechariah is that it becomes an act of purification. This is what the Resurrection means, for us and for the world. The Sabbath might be past, but the Kingdom is still being built in us and through us (16:1), and it is from the familiar shores of Galilee that Jesus now calls each of us, regardless of our context, regardless of social status, to go out into the world to share this same message of hope with the world.
And here is the greater truth- as we go, it is in-fact the Resurrected Jesus that is still “going before us” in order to bring His work to completion on that great and glorious day. This is where we gain our strength and conviction. This is what brings us together as a single and renewed family of God’s sons and daughters. As the kingdom is being built in us, it is Jesus we are still being called to follow. As we continue to see the Kingdom, it is Jesus we are called to set our sights on and to “see” more clearly. And the more we see of Jesus, the less power we give to the things of this world that are working to divide and scatter us in their fight for our love and attention.
“Seek” and “see”- with Fear and Wonder
“He has risen; he is not here. He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him.”
It is this truth, the idea that they will “see Jesus” again in Galilee, that leads the women in this passage to experience contrasting emotions- fear and amazement; trembling and wonder (vs. 8). For attentive readers of Mark, you can recognize these contrasting emotions as the same expression that marks all who meet Jesus in this Gospel.
There is something rather wonderful about this relationship between fear and wonder, something that seems to hit at the heart of Mark’s Gospel message; which is that we (as readers) would come to know Jesus, and that knowing Jesus would capture our hearts in a similar fashion. It is the fear that keeps us humble. It is the fear that moves us to always be watching, asking, waiting and pursuing a greater way of living. Fear leaves us unsettled, and calls us to embrace the messiness and the unexpectedness of this unsettledness as it pushes us towards a life of faith in what Jesus has done and is doing in our midst. This is where we find the freedom to truly wrestle with Jesus and the way in which He calls us to “go”, because, after all, the Way is not the easy road to take. It is not something that we should (or can) take likely. It intends to leave us uncomfortable, displaced from our old way of living, challenged to pursue something greater. It is a way that demands our whole self, our whole life, a way built on the life of sacrifice and service that took Jesus to the Cross. And yet, what Mark shows us is that when we are willing to wrestle with Jesus in this way, to encounter His call with trembling hands, we will also find the opportunity to be amazed, amazed by this Jesus who Mark sets out for us in the beginning of his Gospel- Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the one who died on the Cross and rose from the grave in order to share with us new life.
As the centurion remarked in his own moment of fear and amazement as he sees Jesus seemingly for the first time, “truly this man was the Son of God”.
Who Was and Is and Is to Come
It is really interesting to note the final words of Mark’s Gospel:
“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. “
– Mark 16:8
Once again, I am brought back to the beginning of my journey in Mark where it says,
“And he would not allow (even) the demons to speak, because they knew him 1:34).”
I wonder if the modern Church could learn something about what it means to encounter Jesus and be rendered speechless. Certainly this goes against some of the more louder and more bombastic tendencies of modern day evangelism tactics. But in the way that Mark chooses to end his Gospel narrative, I am reminded that knowing Jesus is about far more than mere words or expressions.
It is about a changed life.
And for as much as I see Jesus on the mountaintop in the Gospel narrative, it is the residence that he takes in the every day lives of unexpected people that truly shows Jesus for who He- one who loved and served and sought the hearts of His children without inhibition. In the same way, it is by taking residence in my life, in the up and down movements of my own faith filled and faith less-filled moments, that I find I am coming to know Jesus more and more as well.
It is in our moments of fear and trembling that we find the opportunity to be amazed, and is in these moments of amazement that we are able to allow God to open our eyes to what Jesus is doing. Knowing Jesus changes us from the inside-out, and it is because He is risen that we can claim the power we need to live as changed lives.Even when the Gospel doesn’t make sense, and even when an empty grave is hard to reconcile and to understand, the truth that Mark sets out to declare is that Jesus is still going before us to show us the way.
And so the story continues. Thankfully Mark’s Gospel doesn’t actually end in fear and amazement or the speechless. It actually ends in Galilee. The Resurrection of Jesus is simply the start of the call towards a new life in the already/not yet Kingdom narrative. Jesus took us to the Cross to show us the Way, to prepare a road for us to follow as we continue on the Way. And now, as we return to Galilee once again, Jesus invites us to travel this same road out into the rest of world, continuing to live out the Gospel of the forgiven and forgiving life as we go.