So… I sat down and read through Mark. Did you?
Did you read The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) by St. Mark and stop at chapter 16: verse 8?
Are you going to sign on with Jesus? Or with the temple defenders???
Will you go with Simon, Jesus, or some other “messiah”? (There are hundreds of them for about 200 years either side of Jesus, btw. They are, literally, a dime a dozen!)
(Okay. Let’s just be honest about this a minute. If you are reading here, odds are really good you are an American “Christian” already. And if that is true of you, then odds are good you grew up in a “Christian” home with one or more “Christian” parents and likely “Christian” grandparents too. With a heritage like that, odds are really long that you will choose Simon or some other “messiah” or messiah-wannabe. That leaves you with the choice of either Jesus and you keep going down this rabbit hole with Agent X or Jesus and you click off here.)
It is a really lame idea, but one we have to live with anyway, but you have the option to just sit in your easy chair and keep reading here like a gawker at a train wreck if you want. I won’t stop you. But if you were one of the young men of fightin’ age who showed up in Jerusalem about the time of the 66 A.D. revolt, you would not have that convenient choice. You would have to choose to either be with us or with the terrorists, so to speak. So… welcome to your armchair theology, if that is what you want, but I encourage you to make the effort to really stand in these sandals and listen to Mark with the eyes to see and the ears to hear as best you can. Our American politics in recent years come close enough to give you a feel for what I am talking about. If you do, it leads to repentance.
That said, let’s get on with this.
So… what did you think?
16:8! Wow! Huh???
Even in English translations, it’s a stunning place for the pamphlet to leave us! Surely, surely, surely there is more to the story! Are you sitting there having a “wait/what?” moment?
We just came through a fast paced, dark story. A lot of it seems mysterious, and disjointed (to our modern American ears especially), but in the grand sweep, it makes enough sense. The part about the crucifixion seems to go way too fast! (To me, anyway. How about you???) I mean, I have spent so much of my spiritual life dwelling on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – contemplating, meditating, thinking, analyzing – that I feel like I have more to say about it than Mark. The climax comes and goes so fast! And then, that ending.
The women flee afraid and don’t tell anyone?
I know/you know the story does not end there. I have read Matthew, Luke, and John before, and I know this is not the end! Somebody told somebody, cuz I worship with a lot of people who have heard about it.
Of course, if you stop at 16:8, you get rumors of resurrection, but Mark never actually depicts Christ raised. I don’t ever actually see this marvelous miracle with my story-reading eyes! Why on earth would Mark lead me to this point and just leave me here?
Well (let the reader understand) what if Mark’s primary audience was that young Jewish rebel wannabe of the first century A.D? What is Mark doing to THAT person? Remember to stand in those sandals as best you can.
Your reaction will likely be different from mine in significant ways, but here is what happens to me when I get to this point: I plainly see the importance of this document and even some of its power. I feel like I was led here on purpose by the Spirit of God. But I am now dumbfounded too. I look at my options, and I see that I can scoff at this pamphlet and walk (even run) away. (Judas sold out the revolution for a little money, I might actually want to betray it for even less.) After all, it has all the look and feel of a doomed messiah about it, except for… for… hmmm… I can’t put my finger on it.
I have one other option, actually, but it’s a hard one. However, the more I think about it, it feels like the only reasonable option: I am gonna have to read Mark again. A little slower this time. Try to absorb all the implications.
(NOW, dear XAnon reader, you are a modern person (maybe post-modern) and likely American. So there are SOME implications in this which are readily available for a young Jew in Jerusalem in 66 A.D. that just are not readily available to you. Even I, this far removed, discover more in this document nearly every time I read it, and I have been at it many, many years now! So, let’s allow a little bit of wiggle room here for our growth to happen over time.)
Back to the implications.
The story Mark shares opens with a drifter blowing in from the desert, a rebel leader, getting baptized and placing a call on the lives of fishermen. (I will explain that in detail later.) Soon he is healing people and amassing a following, taking the “disciples” (is “disciple” a euphemism for rebel?) up on a mountain, reminiscent of Moses in the wilderness, and creates the Twelve. He is reconstituting Israel! Like starting the whole nation all over again! He heals some more people, gets more of a following, and even acts like he is King David at a couple of points! He calls Herod a fox and clearly is making a bid to be crowned king of the Jews, which Mark carefully depicts in the most ironic way – a crown of thorns! It’s obvious that Mark’s pamphlet is revolutionary.
But do you notice how the “disciples” in this revolution bungle their responsibilities? To be fair, in chapter 1, they do answer the call. They drop their nets and leave their fathers in the boats and run off to follow Jesus. That is the last/best thing they do right. They fumble again soon after that, and eventually they fall flat on their faces in utter, abject failure. By chapter 14, one of them betrays him and the rest flee and leave him alone to be arrested and put through a late night railroad trial. They deny him, run and hide, and after he gets killed, it’s only women left to witness anything, and even they aren’t talking.
But (let the reader understand), I joined them along the way. I became one of them too. I am not exactly sure when it happened, but I began to have privileged intel and close proximity to him IN THE STORY that even the Twelve did not have. In fact, within the Twelve, there are three who are especially close to him, and I had better access to him through this pamphlet than even they do. In four simple examples, here’s what I mean:
1) In chapter one, I hear the voice from heaven announce “This is my Son!” No one there on the ground that day has this privileged insight.
2) The boys on the boat in a storm cry out for salvation, and when they see the sea become placid, they ask, “Who is it that calms the wind and the sea?”
Well, who does that?
There is only One I know of who does that, and if He did that on that day, I mean really did that, then why do you need to ask? Your question answers itself!
3) Jesus withdraws a couple times to pray, and I as the reader of the pamphlet go with him, whereas the Twelve do not. They are bewildered and lost without him, but I am with him and see them straining at the oars against the wind and the waves. They think he was a ghost! I know it is Him walking on the water.
4) When the others fall asleep in the garden the night of his arrest, I am awake with him. When they all flee and deny him, I am still there wondering how on earth he is going to pull off this rebellion!
You see, somewhere along the way, I got roped into this call. I became the 13th Apostle. The women of 16:8 run away scared, afraid, and frightened and they don’t tell anyone anything, but I am left there holding the bag, so to speak. The women might not tell, but what about me???
I realize now that I have become somewhat impatient with the others. Over the course of the story, they become bungling idiots, and I am frustrated with their lack of faith. When the written story suddenly stops at 16:8, the onus of responsibility is left with ME! Will I answer the call the rest do not? Or will I walk away unconvinced too.
From implications to wrestling the angel (or difficult questions).
You see, I still have questions. I have no use for a failed messiah. This one got crucified, and that is the telltale signal that he was not actually God’s special anointed one. Right? Crucified messiahs are, by definition, failed messiahs and not really of God.
Yet, there was something about this one… something that won’t let me go. What is it?
I need to read the document again. I need to look closer.
On the other hand, Titus is bringing six legions against Herod’s temple, and Simon and a few good men are putting out the call to God’s people to have faith and come stand with God at the temple NOW! I don’t want to miss that!
It’s either Jesus or that temple!
What choice to I make? Where is my allegiance… REALLY?
This is… well… scandalous! It’s a conspiracy! And though I can’t quite put my finger on any one sure indicator, just yet, I notice that Jesus amasses an army! But look at his army closely. Who are his recruits? The blind, the lame, the poor, and the dead! He heals them, of course, but those are the ones who actually answer the call. It reminds me of the valley of dry bones Ezekiel spoke of. Exceedingly dry, dead bones! Can they live? Ahhh… yes! And there arises an exceedingly great army! Dead bones answer the call of God, not “religious leaders” and political leaders.
Jesus has the 5000 sit on the green grass in platoons and companies of 50s and hundreds! Mark says they are 5000 MEN! A FEW GOOD MEN! The “green grass” recalls Kind David tending sheep and raising armies! When a Jewish rebel leader takes a group of Jewish men into the wilderness and feeds them miracle food, it not only recalls Moses, it also recalls the ARMY of God that Moses forged of those wandering Jews of old!
And this is an army of LOVE! No other army in the history of armies was ever assembled of blind, lame, poor, and dead warriors. The closest thing we find in the history books (in this case our Old Testament), is when God made an army out of timid, begrudging, grumbling, and faithless slaves in Egypt, led them into the wilderness and whipped Amalekites, Hittites, and Philistines with them! Or like when the Spirit of God blows on the dry bones and the love of God creates an army!
But the disciples forsake Jesus and flee (14:50), ever last one of them. Again, a failed messiah!
But wait. There’s more.
What about baptism in the Holy Spirit???
John said, “I baptize you in water, but after me comes One who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
When did Jesus baptize any of us in the Holy Spirit? At exactly what point did that happen? It was predicted in chapter 1, but when did it get fulfilled? Surely Mark didn’t just forget to follow up on that strand of the narrative plot! Surely that is not some loose end left untied!!!
And what about those demons? Where did they come from? How is it that the demons keep announcing and proclaiming his hidden identity, but Jesus keeps telling them to shut up? What is THAT about?
What about the blind man healed twice? Did Jesus just slip up and fail to heal the blindness the first time? Was there a glitch in the healing touch? Surely Jesus can heal, and heal rightly and with power… NO???
I need to look at the pamphlet one more time. I have scandalous questions that must be answered. I need to wrestle with this pamphlet again. In fact, I feel like Jacob of old wrestling the Angel of God deep into the night. Will I prevail?
It’s a conspiracy! I know it. But I just gotta know. I gotta look again. What did I miss? I can’t put my finger on it, yet, but I know I will. Let me just wrestle this angel and read it one more time. Then I will be able to answer the call or not.
See you next time.