The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel

[The is the third in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel.]

While Mark’s beginning is strange to those who think about it carefully, his ending is strange to anyone who reads.  In the oldest and best manuscripts, Mark’s Gospel ends like this:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

That’s it.  No meeting the resurrected Jesus, no moment of glory, not even a moment when the petrified women actually tell someone what happened.  “They were afraid”—and the curtains drop.

The longer ending printed in our Bibles was written very, very early on, so early that it is canonical and considered an inspired text in its own right.  But the very fact that the longer ending is so ancient demonstrates that even the earliest Church found Mark’s ending strange.  No resurrection scene?  We gotta fix that.

For Mark, however, it made sense.  And I have a theory about how. Continue reading “The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel”

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The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

[The is the second in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question.  “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.”  Of course this is the beginning:  it’s the first verse, after all.  But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.”  This is where the story starts.

What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose.  Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began.  I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots:  they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity.  Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.

But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist.  After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”

Why is this scene so important, so pivotal, that this and no other is “the beginning of the gospel”?  Mark gives us seven clues: Continue reading “The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel”

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Hearing Mark’s Gospel

[The is the first in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

Over the past two weeks, I have led four groups through an intensive four-day introduction to Mark’s Gospel.  We looked at how Mark presents Jesus’ geographical movements, the development of characters, the structure of the story, and the peculiar “shorter ending” of Mark.  The high point of the class was a read-aloud of the whole text.

Most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible prior to the invention of the printing press.  Manuscript copies had in fact become more common in the centuries leading up to that point, but in the early Church owning even one book of the Bible was rare.  Mark’s original congregation would normally have experienced his Gospel by hearing it.

So, I figure, why not recreate the read-aloud experience for my students?  It only takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Their reactions were fascinating: Continue reading “Hearing Mark’s Gospel”

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The rosary: a medieval app

A friend recently mentioned to me that he uses a “meditation app.” It provides a Scripture reading as fodder, and it bongs a little gong to start and stop the meditation time.

My first reaction was to think this odd. Technology-driven prayer time must surely be the final flowering of modernity’s mechanistic mindset, right? Buddha and Moses have failed to bring us into God’s presence, but the GPS on my smartphone can take me straight to him. Continue reading “The rosary: a medieval app”

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Christian Hunters: A Meditation on Psalm 8

WCC students get to take a hunter safety course with our fantastic Game and Fish Commission team.  Recently, the College asked me to give a talk that would tie the hunter education component in with the students’ Catholic faith. Continue reading “Christian Hunters: A Meditation on Psalm 8”

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The Annunciation and the Death of the Christ

It’s an odd year. Because Good Friday happened to fall on March 25, we end up celebrating the Annunciation in April.

According to the usual account, it’s a strange coincidence. Christians instituted Christmas on December 25 to combat the pagan feast of the sun. If you count back nine months from December 25, you land on March 25 as the date of the Incarnation and of Gabriel’s message. And as luck would have it, sometimes Good Friday falls on that day. But the usual account is wrong.

The Annunciation falling on Good Friday is no coincidence at all. Continue reading “The Annunciation and the Death of the Christ”

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Stations of the Cross

Not long ago, my older brother Josh walked the via crucis in Jerusalem. He described it as both fascinating and moving, and he admitted that he missed some of the best photo ops because he was so moved by the thought: Jesus stood in this place. Jesus touched this rock. Jesus died for me—right here. Continue reading “Stations of the Cross”

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Palm Sunday: History, Mystery, Practice

[This was originally posted a year ago, but when I found myself reviewing it for my own sake, I realized that I should re-post it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.]

With the ceremonies of Palm Sunday, Holy Week begins. The Liturgy of the Hours uses a new antiphon for the Invitatory, and the chants or hymns for the various hours are different. The readings take on new themes.  In various ways, the Church encourages us to see the coming week is a distinct time with its own character. Continue reading “Palm Sunday: History, Mystery, Practice”

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Lenten veils are a bigger deal than you think

When you enter a Catholic church in Passiontide, what leaps out at you is that all the statues and religious images are veiled in purple cloths.  When the veiling of images began in the tenth century, it was part of something even more striking:  a large veil completely separated the main altar from the rest of the church.

This became the custom throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. It is still the custom in some parts of Austria and Germany, where the huge veil is known as the fastentuch, the “fasting cloth.” Continue reading “Lenten veils are a bigger deal than you think”

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Funny things happen when you try lectio divina

By chance, a senior at WCC saw me in the office hallway yesterday and hailed me down. Would I be able to tell him anything about the book of Hosea?

Lectio DivinaA good teacher never just answers the question, but asks more questions to find out what was behind the question. As it turned out, this student was inspired by my recent lecture, by the earlier lecture by Tim Gray, and by a chance exchange with another professor—inspired, he said, to read the Bible as addressed personally to him. In other words, he had begun to practice lectio divina. Continue reading “Funny things happen when you try lectio divina”

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