Saturday, April 30, 2011

the whole story

today's Gospel reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is Mark 16.9-15

       wild garlic
        ~white blossoms
         among nettles

Most scholars would agree that the original ending of Mark's Gospel was at 16.8, where the women flee the empty tomb in terror and amazement. I like it as an ending, because it underscores a profound theological point that Mark sought to make all through his Gospel, that the disciples always failed to understand Jesus. It's not as if he was 'leaving out' the resurrection or the post-resurrection appearances. The community for which he was writing knew the story. Mark was allowing them to fill in the blanks for themselves in the narative even as he made his own theological point.

Subtlety, alas, is not always appreciated. 'You've left out the most important part,' his readers complained. So the text was 'fixed.' Perhaps by Mark in a later edition. Most likely by other hands, given that the longer ending seems to smack of bits from the endings of the other three canonical Gospels. Slightly ironic I suppose that Gospels which had leaned heavily on Mark as a source (Matthew and Luke) should themselves later become sources to correct a perceived 'error' in their 'parent' document.

It really wasn't necessary. When you know the story, you fill in the blanks naturally. Think about how we hear scripture in Church: a little snippet of Old Testament, a little snippet of New. Well of course it has to be like that, otherwise a church service would never end! But the point is we know the story, and we fill in the blanks.

Or at least we are supposed to. There is a danger that people are becoming illiterate in terms of their faith. Huge swathes of people who call themselves Christian may only appear in Church occasionally. What context do they have for the seemingly random bits of scripture they may hear?

Perhaps the 'editors' of Mark, if we may call them that, actually did us a favour. They didn't think it was a good idea to take things for granted. And maybe we shouldn't either. We can no longer assume that people 'know the story' that lies behind our faith, even amongst those who claim to be part of that faith. We have work to do. Otherwise when try to tell the story our hearers will react partly like the women that morning by the empty tomb - they will not be afraid, but like the women they will not understand.

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