James’s Blog: How to End the Gospel.

I admire Mark for the way that he ended his gospel:  “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Of course, most Bibles have another 11 verses stapled to the end which, as your footnotes will helpfully tell you, are not present in the earliest versions of Mark. Those verses were added over the years by scribes who couldn’t bear the way that Mark had finished his book. “That’s no way to end the story, Mark,” they said. “Where’s the good news? Where are the appearances of the risen Jesus, the promise of miracles and hope, the divine mission left to his disciples? You’ve got to have those in, Mark. It’s called ‘closure’. Don’t you know anything about endings?”

On all these things, Mark is stubbornly silent. I admire his courage in letting the ending hang there, like a thread in the wind. I admire him, because he knew better than many of us how to end a story. I admire him because it’s clear that he understood the gospel.

The resurrection was there. It didn’t need to be explained. Instead Mark chose to end his story with something uncomfortable, dumped into your lap like an angry cat, unexpected, squirming and digging in its claws. “I’m not going to tell you what to think,” he said. “I’m not going to fill in the gaps. I’m not going to answer your questions. I’m just going to tell you what happened, and leave it with you. You don’t get to just listen with this one – it’s too important for passivity. It’s God’s message, so what are you going to do with it?”

As much as I believe that the gospel makes sense of this Jekyll and Hyde world in which we live, I also know that if you go to God expecting answers you’ll be disappointed. God doesn’t usually answer questions – He asks them. When Mark tells the story of Jesus, he’s not telling it to explain the world, he’s telling it to make a demand on your life.

Mark understood that the message of Jesus was not just a fairy tale or a moralistic monologue. You have to do something with it, and that’s why he leaves it unfinished. To force your hand. I admire him for that.

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