I love how the Gospel of Mark ends. At least, how I think it ends. If you look at your Bible, you’ll notice that there is some uncertainty with that. There is a “shorter ending” for Mark, and a “longer ending.” They are called this for deep, theological reasons – it’s because one is shorter, and one is longer.
But there’s also a third option; that Mark ends with verse 8 in chapter 16.
What’s going on here? Well, do you want the “shorter answer” or the “longer answer”? Let’s go with shorter. With all of the evidence we can gather, it appears that Mark 16.9-20 comes from one of Mark’s early interpreters, maybe in the 2nd century, and then eventually is included in the gospel as it was circulated. So, if you’re asking me (and I know, you’re not), I believe that Mark, when he concluded his gospel, did so at verse 8.
Now, you can disagree with me, and that’s fine. This is clearly not an essential issue. In fact, it’s not something that makes a person “liberal” or “conservative.” It simply asks: What do we think was the most likely conclusion Mark was intending?
And that ending, I believe, is the one that has the angel telling the women at the tomb: Go tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you into Galilee; there you will see him. At this, Mark tells us, the women flee in terror and amazement.
Is that any way to finish a gospel? Is that how you leave your readers hanging – by telling them that Jesus is alive, but without a direct appearance? Does Mark really end his gospel this way? Yes, I think he does, for a very specific – and, I think, wonderful – reason.
The women hear the message that Jesus is alive – and they have to decide: Now what? Do we go back to our lives? Do we go back into hiding? Or do we step out into new life, believing and living the truth that Jesus is alive!?
I believe that’s exactly the response Mark is going for. In a sense, all of us stand at the empty tomb; every one of us needs to face the truth that Jesus isn’t there. If not, what does that mean? And what does that mean for my life? If Jesus is alive, everything changes. Life is no longer the same. His message of God’s new kingdom takes on new meaning, and his work that we thought died with him, is very much alive. And we have to decide: Are we going to live as if Jesus is still alive?
The writer Eugene Peterson says that the invitation of the angel to the women, found in verse 7, is a mandate for us as we go into the world: Look, Jesus has gone ahead of you; as you go, you’ll see him there, just as he promised. In other words, Peterson says that the promise is that the risen Jesus, by virtue of his resurrection, is already everywhere we are going. Before we get there. So that, if our faith is in him, we can expect to see him in our workplaces, and in our schools. He is already present in the hospital, the prison, and the senior center. He is in the West End and the East End; he is already downtown and uptown. And wherever we go, and whenever we go, we can expect to see the grace of Jesus already present. And by faith, as we go, we can help others see him, too.
So, you can pick which of the 3 endings of Mark you prefer; I’ll go with the shortest. Not because it’s the easiest, but because it’s the most invitational – reminding me that, in this broken and messy world, Jesus is already present. And there’s no mess too messy for him, no brokenness too broken for him, and no fear or worry that I have that he hasn’t already addressed. Jesus, our Resurrected Lord, is out there, inviting me and you to see him out there, to join him out there – just as he told us.