Mark 16, 9-20 no. 48 Dec. 22

Mark 16, 9-20 are inspired by God, inerrant and canonical – just as is the rest of the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe, however, that someone other than Mark wrote these verses; they argue that the style and vocabulary of Mark 1, 1 – 16, 8 shows an author different from the one who has his own vocabulary and style imprinted on 16, 9-20. More important that differences of style and vocabulary, however, is the fact that vv. 9-20 do not appear in the earliest manuscripts and in a number of the writings of the earlier Fathers of the Church. Thus, today Mk 16, 9-20 is considered an addition to what Mark wrote. The reason, scholars suspect, for this ’addition’ is that someone or group was dissatisfied with the ending of the Gospel at 16, 8; there should been something more to say, or perhaps the original ending was lost – but to end the Gospel with ’the women bewildered, afraid and speaking to no one’ seems imprudent and unsatisfactory. The hopeful intention, then, is that vv. 9-16 will provide a better ending to the Gospel than does v. 8. Almost everything in vv. 9-16 duplicates what is found in parts of the other canonical Gospels and with difficulty found in Mark; thus, these verses are understood to be borrowed from them. The themes which better close the Gospel emphasize many points. First, the disciples do see and hear the resurrected Jesus; they do qualify as trustworthy witnesses of the resurrection. Second, their refusal to believe those who earlier told them of the resurrection was owed to their unbelief and hardness of heart – a subtle plea with the reader to believe ’without seeing and hearing the risen Jesus’. Third, the words of Jesus justify and explain the astounding and unexpected spread of the good news about him throughout the world. Little attention had been paid in the public life of Jesus to this universal offer of salvation; included in this offer is the need for decision, and the good or bad results of belief and non-belief and the need for baptism. Fourth, signs will accompany the apostolic preaching, signs which are reminiscent of Jesus’ wonders, of Pentecost, of protection from threats to the lives of preachers. Finally, never forgotten is the sign of care for the sick – not a command that care be performed, but that care will show the presence of God in the preachers. Jesus had said these things to his Eleven who were at table. Now the scene changes to another moment in which Jesus ascends to the right hand of God and takes his royal place there, and in which the Eleven carried out Jesus’ order everywhere. Along with their preaching was the Lord who worked with them and confirmed their words with His signs. These verses, when summarized as they are here, indicate a desire on their author’s part to give both an explanation of why the Eleven preached, and preached successfully with the Lord as their companion, and clarity about essential aspects of discipleship: faith in the word of those who actually saw and heard Jesus and loyal and heroic fulfillment of the commands of the Lord to tell everyone about what God has done in Jesus. Jesus’ sitting at the right hand of God is the culmination of the obedience visible whether in the public life of Jesus Messiah or in the Passion of the Son of God. True, these final verses do not speak of Jesus’ desire that ’you tell know one about me’, a theme dominant in the Gospel. But the reader has by now understood the emphasis Mark has placed on the meanings of Messiah and Son of God that obedience to the Father contributes. Mark’s readers believed Jesus was Messiah and Son of God before the Gospel was written. But understanding him better should/will produce better disciples, especially those under persecution, and that is the goal of this Gospel. Are these verses 9-20 an ending to the Gospel better than what we have with v. 8? That is a question for each of us to answer – and perhaps there is no answer. John Kilgallen, SJ
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