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Lectionary 266: Variants in St. Mark’ Gospel

April 25, 2014


Scripture: Lectionary 266. April 26. Acts 4:13-21.  Psalm 118:1,14-15.16-18.19-21. Mark 16:9-15:

Our readings from Mark have been added to the original last verse and now are used in the liturgy.  They are considered part of the Mark tradition and are to be prayed and meditated upon.  Why do we have these variant readings in Mark 16:9-20?  First, let us accept the fact that the Mark’s resurrection scene is simply the empty tomb.  Mark may have intended to end with the surprise that we have in Mark 16:8: “And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  Secondly, Mark  may never have finished the ending with a resurrection appearance;  thirdly, the last leaf of Mark was possibly lost.

In turning to what we now have as the variant endings in Mark we can easily see that there is evidence of an author other than Mark in this conflated narrative that brings in what we know from the other Gospels.  A scribe probably wished to soften the abruptness and the lingering fear of the women.  Professor Bruce Metzger notes: “The connection between verse 8 and verses 9-20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel.” (Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, p.125).  The vocabulary used is also different from some of the words that we would expect from Mark.

In reading our Gospel selection we do notice that there are themes taken from the other Gospels—especially Luke and John.  Matthew always stays close to Mark but not in his resurrection appearances which are more detailed and dramatic. We are open to this ending because it is an early witness to the need to fill in gaps when the Scripture forces us to do so.  The addition could stem from as early as 150 A.D.-200 A.D.

We meditate on this passage and realize that it helps us to complete the surprise ending of Mark with some personal additions or insights of our own.  Summarizing seems to be a great way of remembering and we have an example of it here by the unknown author who is trying to complete Mark’s narrative without remaining with just an empty tomb.  The writers of the Old Testament did the same in taking the Exodus event and then remembering it in the prayerful psalms that recall it.

The Jesus Prayer is quite biblical yet it is repeated and repeated to help us remember we are in the presence of God.  The Resurrection is so great an event that many narratives are found in the New Testament that help us capture the immensity of God’s marvelous action in raising Jesus from the dead.  Homilists and preachers embellish the Resurrection narratives in what they say and adapt to the needs of their listeners.  Perhaps, our extra endings in Mark were such attempts by those proclaiming the Good News and then were summarized and put into variant readings in Mark.  Finally wasn’t it good to hear something from Mark during this Easter octave?.  Amen. Alleluia.


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