Thursday, May 19, 2005

Making Sense of Mark's Ending 3

Two of the more popular attempts at making sense of Mark’s ending come from feminist interpreters. The first one, a historical reconstructionist perspective, argues that the women did not remain silent and afraid. How could the gospel ever spread if the first witnesses remained fearful and quiet? The second one comes from the literary perspective. Jesus’s followers drop the ball. The men drop it first. And then the women. The Markan Jesus tells his disciples God will raise him up several times in the narrative. The men don’t believe him. The women came to the tomb to anoint a dead body. They did not go there to welcome a Risen Lord. How about us—the text’s present readers—will we also drop the ball?

If Mark were a movie, it definitely does not end like a Walt Disney movie. It’s open-ended, much like the book of Jonah. The narrative ends at 16:8 with women silent and afraid. I propose the following readings that try to make sense of that ending.

“Watch” the “movie” we call Mark. One can argue that its major theme is suffering-- vicarious suffering to be exact. Its lead character inaugurates a mass movement that begins in Galilee. When the movement eventually reaches the power center of Jerusalem, its leader is executed. Then the young man at the tomb tells the woman that their leader has been raised, and is waiting for them in Galilee, where everything started. And the cycle begins again. His followers are to follow the same path as their leader—the path of vicarious suffering. Wouldn’t you be afraid and silent?

“Watch” the movie we call Mark again. If one focuses on its major characters, one discovers quite fast that most of them are men. Jesus’s disciples are all men until you get to the crucifixion scene, almost at the end, where, like an afterthought, the narrator tells the audience that Jesus had women disciples. Listen to the young man’s pronouncement at the empty tomb—it’s for the men. The risen Christ is supposed to meet the men in Galilee. The women has had enough of this “all men program.” Tama na. Sobra na. Palitan na. Wouldn’t you be afraid and silent when you realize the repercussions of saying “enough” to patriarchy and androcentrism?

If one puts “the vicarious suffering cycle” reading with the “all-men-program” reading together, you’ll have women—by their collective act of disobeying the young man at the tomb-- saying “enough” to the cycles of violence that ultimately always victimize women and children. Now, wouldn’t you be afraid and silent?

A reading of Mark focused on the disciples would soon show that, more often than not, they cannot understand what Jesus does and what he says. Over and over Jesus has to explain his words and his acts. In chapters 8, 9, and 10, Jesus tells them about his suffering and his resurrection, and they misunderstand him. The narrative ends with women coming to the tomb to anoint a dead body. No one among Jesus’s named disciples believed that he will rise again. But one woman in the whole narrative does believe. Read Mark 14. There an unnamed woman gatecrashes a party for Jesus and anoints him with expensive oil. And Jesus says that what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. What did she do? She did an act of faith. She believed Jesus. She anointed Jesus’s body for burial because there would be no body to anoint later. There would only be an empty tomb—as the named women disciples discover when they came with their anointing oils.

Now, if you are one of the many who did not believe Jesus and suddenly the one you thought was dead is actually alive and waiting for you, wouldn’t you be afraid and silent?
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