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Confusion: where do we go from here?

Confusion: where do we go from here?

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)

Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)

Exodus 18:1-12

1 John 2:7-17

Mark 16:9-20

Today’s Gospel reading introduces a bit of controversy; namely, the ending to the Gospel of Mark. It can be confusing, because the New Revised Standard Version translation shows a shorter ending and a longer ending. In reality, there are actually several “shorter endings” out there in the texts of antiquity, as well as a longer ending, which was used in the King James Version, along with some other translations, such as the New International Version.

This has been no small controversy among different groups of practicing Christians. The problem is that Mark doesn’t really tell the story at both ends quite like the way the other three Gospels do–Mark avoids Jesus’ birth entirely (and the whole Virgin Birth story,) as well as sidestepping a lot we’ve taken to heart in the post-Resurrection stories we’ve come to expect hearing in Easter. The preponderance of scholars these days have come to accept that the “longer ending” (which does seem to line up with the other three Gospels post-Resurrection) is probably a later addendum, as the other Gospels (which where written later than the Gospel of Mark) began to appear.

People don’t like to hear that sometimes. I think by and large we don’t like controversy that has the potential (notice I only say “potential” here) to inject doubt into our faith. Worse yet, I think for some folks, the King James Version itself is revered above all other translations because of its poetic beauty, and it raises mistaken feelings of it somehow being attacked.

It reminds me of a lot of the controversy around 2006-2007 or so, when a lot of news sources started covering news about the Talipot Tomb archeological site, which raised the question about whether or not Jesus’ bones were actually in the Talipot tomb site. In the years since, it has been less of a controversy because of statistical analysis of the details of the site, but it made me realize that the possibility was always out there that there could always be a discovery used to “disprove” the core stories of Christianity–yet at the same time, in the depths of my soul, I could not deny the inseparable part of “me” that my faith had become. A friend of mine at church (who is a religion/philosophy professor) likes to say that there are two kinds of proof–scientific proof, which has very distinct rules, in order to compare one thing to another, and philosophical proof, in which one is ultimately proving something to one’s own self in the context of one’s own life. Living our lives with a both/and attitude about that, might be better than insisting they all fit in our carefully designed boxes of either/or.

I’ve come to realize, over time, all of us learn and grow in our own faith stories in a way similarly reflected in the Gospels. I think back on the narratives of my life–both good and bad things, and all things in between–and I realize their meaning morphs a little over time. A whole generation of Christianity was in the process of revelation between the time the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John was written, as well as the revelation of historical events, such as the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Mark would have been written right around that time; the other three Gospels ten to twenty years later. Some of my own stories have changed a lot in twenty years time, too.

We only know snippets from the other three Gospels as to how the disciples dealt with the confusion, and the stories of the risen Jesus reflected in the other three Gospels. There’s an awful lot there that isn’t said at all–at times that silence is what seems to speak the loudest. We also know that the other three were written later, and there was more opportunity to look retrospectively.

So today, if you can resist the lure of the longer version of the ending of Mark, simply stop at the end of the shorter version in the NRSV and sit with it. Where is the place any of us go when all we have is confusion? Where have you seen the Resurrection in a place of unknowing?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


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