Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The Three, pastel chalk, by Tobias Mayer, 2022

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
Mark 16:8

Mark's gospel ends abruptly—and bafflingly.1 The women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome,2 are instructed to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will find Jesus waiting for them,3 but they don't do this. Instead they keep their silence. Why? There is no way to know, of course, we can only surmise. This last line of Mark's gospel has fascinated scholars for centuries. It appears to offer no conclusion at all, but perhaps it does, if we are able to think beyond the linear, and limiting, thought system of today. This is looping, or spiral storytelling. Mark's story ends where it began, in Galilee. We, the readers, are invited to go back to the start of the text and read it again—if we dare.4 Going back to the beginning, returning to take the journey over again is not repetition, but rather enrichment—if we have ears to listen and eyes to see. The first reading of Mark helps to tune our senses; subsequent readings will continue the process of awakeness and awareness. This is not a book to read and put down, but rather one intended to accompany us on our own journey.

Mark consistently challenges us throughout this gospel to confront our own fears, prejudices and stuckness. This ending, brilliant in form and delightful in concept, shows us that such self-awakening is not a short trip with an obvious destination, but the journey of a lifetime. To follow Jesus we must never become complacent, be always open to hearing new ideas, to listening to the needs of others, to respond with love and kindness, and to continue to improve how we do all these things, and ultimately to improve daily in how we serve God. For those in need, downtrodden, oppressed, suffering, for those lost, vacant or empty, Mark's gospel is an upward spiral of hope.

1 It is well established that the longer ending of Mark, 16:9-20 was added at a later date, presumably to align Mark's gospel with the other three canonical gospels. Sadly, it undermines both the integrity and the narrative structure of the book.
2 Mark 16:1; see also Mark 15:40-41. The second Mary is often taken to be Jesus' mother, but is here identified only as the mother of James, and earlier as the mother of James the less and of Joses/Joseph. This may be the disciple James (a fisherman, brother of John) or maybe a different James, the one later identified as the brother of Jesus, perhaps to make this relationship consistent with the legend that Mary, mother of Christ, was at his death, and later at the tomb. In any case, it is interesting that the only people who stayed with Jesus up until his crucifixion, and later attended his tomb to anoint him were women. The men had all either betrayed him, deserted him or had gone into hiding.
3 Mark 16:7
4 I learned this from reading Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus, by Ched Myers, 1988, but I believe the idea is older.