What would you do? | Daily Office Devotional 2021/7/9

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 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.

[[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to 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 these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 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.]]

Mark 16:1-8[9-20]

The ending of the Gospel according to Mark is perplexing. If you refer to your bibles, you may notice that verses 9 to 20 are enclosed within square brackets with a note that says, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.” These 4th century manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end at verse 8, and most modern scholars are in agreement that verses 9 to 20 are later additions not from the same author. Verses 9 to 20 are what’s known as the longer ending of Mark, which means there’s yet another ending of Mark that’s shorter: “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.” Given the markedly later manner of expression (the developed “Christian-ese”), the words of this shorter ending can’t be Mark’s either.

Regardless, the presence of manuscripts with different endings means that many Christians in the past regarded the ending of Mark’s Gospel to be extremely dissatisfying and sought to give it a better conclusion. Scholars are divided as to whether verse 8 is the intended ending to the Gospel, and arguments on both sides seem equally convincing (at least to me). If verse 8 wasn’t intended to be the last verse of the Gospel, it means that the ending had been lost very early on such that none of the extant manuscripts preserved it or even contain traces of it. Some find it unlikely that the ending got torn off or fell off neatly after verse 8. On the other hand, if verse 8 was meant to end the Gospel, then it seems like an extremely odd ending—the women end up too scared to obey the angel’s instructions, and readers get no sense that Jesus’ words in 14.28 and those of the angel’s here find fulfilment. Whether Mark intended to end his Gospel at verse 8 is probably something we can’t be certain of until someone discovers a new manuscript with the original ending or we ask him about it in heaven.

Be that as it may, if we believe that the whole counsel of God is preserved for us in Scripture as we have it, and that the Holy Spirit has providentially given verse 8 to conclude the Gospel, what then does this odd ending mean for us? For us readers who already know that Jesus did meet Peter and the disciples in Galilee after his resurrection, this incomplete and abrupt ending disturbs us with our own unfulfilled expectations. We know the story doesn’t end there and can’t end there, so we’re moved to participate in the storytelling by mentally ending it with what we know. Yes, the women did eventually tell Peter and the disciples, and yes, they did go to Galilee to meet Jesus there. At the same time, we’re drawn into the story to make an existential response: we’re first made to recognise that the responses of the fearful women were inadequate but are subsequently forced to reckon with our own dumbness in the face of the shocking good news of the empty tomb. Jesus has risen from the dead, and death—like the heavy stone—has been shoved away by the power of everlasting life. How can we stay silent and not tell it to others?

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