In Mark 15, as Jesus stands before Pilate, the Roman leader asks him: Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus’ answer is sparse, cryptic, and not really an answer — or at least, not the answer Pilate was looking for: You say so, read some versions. You have said it, reads another. It is as you say, says yet another. And one more says: Those are your words. Other versions translate it simply: Yes I am.
These translations are all wrestling with the challenge of getting at what Jesus says. For what he says is just two words: You say.
It’s a response to a huge question: Are you the king of these people? These people whom Pilate despises and has to try to keep in check. These occupied Jewish people who either have learned to play the game the way their Roman overlords require, or who chafe against it (openly, or more likely, quietly, cautiously, carefully). Except for the most ardent Roman supporters among them, the people were ready for freedom. And to be the king of the Jews certainly had religious implications, but it definitely also had political.
And so, Pilate understandably wants to know: Is this guy going to mess with the Roman system? If so, Pilate, on behalf of Rome, will not mess around.
Which makes it all the more curious that Jesus makes no more of a response to Pilate’s inquiries: Who are you? What are you up to? What are you all about?
Pilate is amazed. Pilate wonders: Who stands before Rome’s representative and doesn’t speak up before one who has the power to end his life?
Perhaps the One who knows that he has a mission and an identity that Pilate knows nothing about. A man whose definition of king is not what Pilate can understand, but also not what Jesus’ enemies are expecting. For that matter, even Jesus’ closest followers seem clueless as to what kingship means for Jesus — where that will take him, and what that will mean. As Jesus stands before Pilate, no one — not the pagans, not the Jews, not the disciples — even begins to understand where all of this is going.
In fact, Mark’s gospel ends with Pilate’s question still hanging over us. The women go to the tomb, expecting to find Jesus’ body, but of course, he isn’t there. The angelic messenger tells them clearly: You’re looking for Jesus the crucified one. He has risen. The women are then told to go to Galilee where they will meet the Risen King. The women then flee, Mark says, and don’t say anything to anyone, for they are afraid.
And there it ends. Though it doesn’t meet with our desire for a clear and conclusive ending, though Mark’s last word is literally the preposition for — that’s the end of Mark’s gospel. Yes, there are more verses after that, but it doesn’t take a textual scholar to recognize those words are a different tone and type than Mark has been using for 15 1/2 chapters. Others, faithful others, have tried to wrap up Mark’s gospel for him. Mark 16.8 can’t be the end, and so, understandably, others have given us a summary of where things went after the women reach the tomb. But I believe that Mark chose to close his gospel at the open tomb — with what we might call an “open-ended closure.”
Why? Because I think Mark wanted to end his gospel with an invitation. Go, meet Jesus where he told you he was going. Go, tell others. Yet the women run from the tomb, and we’re not sure what’s next. Will they just run away? Will they run to the other disciples? Will they high-tail it to Galilee? Will they take what they have seen (and not seen) and have heard (and not heard), and go? Go away? Or go, meet Jesus?
Perhaps it’s similar to when Jesus stood before Pilate one chapter earlier. Pilate thinks he’s the one in charge, the one asking the questions. But when Pilate asks Jesus about his identity and purpose, Jesus simply replies: You say. As if to say: Those are your words Pilate, but what does it mean for me to be king? Can you even begin to understand, Pilate, what it means for me to be king?
And when the women reach the tomb, and find it empty, they are on the right path. They are beginning, just beginning, to see just what it means for Jesus to be king. It means death, yes. But a death that brings life. And the way to understand that, the way to begin to see what that looks like and to begin to understand what now has changed, they don’t have to understand it all. They can even be fearful. But they need to go — to go and meet Jesus where he is. No longer in the tomb. Not even in the temple. But out there, in Galilee, in the world — in the midst of people who don’t know, who may not understand, who may also be fearful, but who will see Jesus among them. So that we, fearful and uncertain though we may be, like the women, will see Jesus best in the world where he is giving life in the midst of death.
You want to see Jesus? Go. Go out where he is. Go find him in the hurting and the hopeless, the hungry and the thirsty, the desperate and the downtrodden — go find him there. Go live for him there.