Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New revelation about the end of the Gospel of St. Mark

The other day, in my random reflections on Pascha, I wrote the following:

The Gospel read at Matins is from the end of St. Mark which ends with the women being afraid. Many have lamented that this should be the Orthros Gospel and should be replaced with something from Matthew or Luke or John instead that has more joy. But this is completely appropriate. We should be in a state of fear. Our Lord has just been crucified and buried and harrowed Hades. Those things should be frightening because they should never have happened. But such is the God we have, a God who has ALWAYS gone to great extraordinary means to recall His chosen people to Himself. That should inspire us with fear. At the same time, immediately after reading this Gospel, the Priest chants the first "Christ is Risen" alleviating our fear and changing it into joy just like it did for the women and the Disciples.

Today, I was listening to a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko which can be heard on Ancient Faith Radio concerning the Resurrection of Christ and one of the things he mentioned touched a little bit on what I had written above.

First, we have to remember that the last chapter (16) of Mark's gospel ends at verse 8:
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.

The remaining verses in chapter 16 are universally regarded by scholars and the church fathers to have been added later. The reasons for why are myriad, but, as I commented above, perhaps it was done by some people who felt that Mark ends too abruptly and is not joyful enough, so something needed to be added to convey the sense of the Resurrection. Fr. Thomas Hopko has an interesting take.

First, we should also be mindful of what verse 7 says:

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

Fr. Thomas says that he met an Archimandrite from Balamand, Lebanon who said that this is the only time in Mark where human beings are actually given permission to talk about the Messiah, to declare what He has done and what He will do. Every time Christ heals or performs miracles in the Gospel according to St. Mark, He commands both the recipient and the witnesses and the disciples not to speak about who did this and how. In fact, the only ones who are allowed to speak of Christ's work are the demons although Christ silences them before and then casts them out. This is an extraordinary observation.

First, according to the Archimandrite, this shows that God is controlling the message and the messengers. Human beings aren't entrusted yet to proclaim anything because they have not yet seen and heard everything for the message to be proclaimed. But, He does speak openly (parresiai) about His death and Resurrection. I put forth the notion that Christ's miracles, healings, etc. can only be understood through the lens of the events of Holy Friday, Holy Saturday and Pascha. This is something I noticed a few months ago when I was going through the daily lectionary. Thus, I can imagine why the women would be astonished and afraid: They are entrusted to proclaim the Resurrection that explains everything they have seen Christ do prior to it. Now, only now, does it all make sense!

But, notice that the Gospel ends abruptly there (again, we are not counting the additional verses as those are clearly added later). We are not told if the women actually do proclaim the word of the angel to the apostles. We're left in a state of "what if?" If Mark were a screenplay writer today, he'd be acclaimed as a master of suspense. Maybe the women couldn't do it. And who would want to end a story with even more of a downer? Thankfully, Mark's witness is not the only one.

God controls the message. God controls the messengers. Everything is revealed in due time. How often do we feel that we are the ones who have to control and shape the message and the messengers as well as the time in which it is proclaimed? Hasn't God already done that? Maybe this Gospel lesson is also a reminder that God does not ultimately depend on us for His will to be done, though I'm sure He would prefer and desire that we would cooperate with His will. That's humility, the same kind of humility our Lord had when He went to His Passion and Death.

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