We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mark's Resurrection

As we enter Holy Week again, the Gospel of Mark's version of the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection is worth lingering over.  That version, recorded in Mark 16, raises serious questions about the way in which Jesus' followers received the news of his resurrection.  In particular, when the three women who went to the tomb to anoint the corpse heard from a "young man dressed in a white robe" that Jesus was raised from the dead, they, "fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8)

If we follow the rule concerning historical documents that a thing is more likely to be true if it is inconvenient to the larger purpose of the author, this account  seems quite credible.  The women didn't see Jesus.  They weren't inspired or fell at his knees.  This was no Pentecost with flames of holy fire.  The empty tomb and the young man scared them out of their wits.  They fled an evident display of God's holy power, and unlike Moses at the burning bush they did not bow down in worship.  They ran.  And in their terror, they told no one.

According to scholars, Mark 16:8 is the end of the original version of the gospel, so far as we know.  If that is the case, it means that Jesus' followers initially greeted his resurrection with fear and silence.  The accounts of the resurrection in the other gospels are much more inspiring, but this one seems more likely.  It is consistent with a tendency found in the gospels to highlight the spiritual ignorance of Jesus' followers—an inconvenient truth that rings true down through the long years since.  It is also consistent with how people of a time when there was a holy terror of things divine would react.  It is also consistent with how three women might react in a male dominated society where they were used to being treated as "just women."  Why risk ridicule?  Finally, the reaction of the three women as Mark describes it is just plain typically human.  Most of us most of the time prefer the known to the unknown, the safe way to the dangerous one; and it makes perfect sense that we do.

This is not the resurrection that the Easter crowd wants to hear about.  It is not the resurrection preached from pulpits on that "glorious and wonderful morn."  This is an account shorn of piety.  In that sense, it may be taken as a call to a faith shorn of piety and the pretensions of religiosity.  We run, we tremble, we keep quiet, but eventually we stop to catch our breath, calm down, and find our voice—eventually.  Amen.