Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Love Without Limits

Most people agree that belief in the resurrection of Jesus is crucial to being a Christian, but what do we mean by the word 'resurrection'? Some Christians take it to mean that Jesus' physical body was miraculously transformed and disappeared from the grave as St Mark reports [1], while others argue that his new spiritual existence is much more important than what actually happened to his earthly remains. Either way, if we don't believe that Jesus is alive, can we really call ourselves 'Christian'?
However, if the resurrection is so crucial to belief in Jesus, what are we to make of the curiously downbeat ending to St Mark's Gospel? Let us make no mistake about it, the Gospel does end here and the rest of chapter 16 consists of later additions by people who felt that St Mark's abrupt conclusion to his story is much too severe.
At least we can take some reassurance from the psychological honesty of the Easter accounts in all four Gospels. The narratives reveal that the disciples were not convinced by the empty tomb. Instead, deep doubts and fears persisted for quite some time. And this is realistic. The Easter story is not a fairy tale ending. In some ways it is mysterious and disturbing.
Since the dawn of human existence, people have always longed for eternal life, but Jesus' resurrection is not the kind of life beyond death which they were hoping for. Even today, most people want heaven to be the fulfilment of all their dreams and wishes, with a smattering of old friends and close relatives thrown into the mix to complete their happiness.
This isn't the same as the resurrection life enjoyed by Jesus. His new life involves being out in the world – going ahead of the disciples and urging them to go on confronting new challenges. It is eternal life, Jim, but not as we know it from previous myths and legends. It's not a cosy promise of future bliss. It's a guarantee that Jesus mission is unstoppable and that God's love is indestructible. It's amazing, but it's not comforting in a wrapped in cotton wool way. It offers us hope, but only if we continue the struggle to follow Jesus' example and identify ourselves uncompromisingly with his cause. No wonder the women were terrified and decided to keep quiet about their discovery – at least for the time being.
Are we ready for new life with Jesus? Are we ready to meet him, still going ahead of us, to challenge and sometimes terrify us with his powerful claim on our lives? And are we ready – after our own death – to share the resurrection life of one who is the living embodiment of love without limits?
[1] Mark 16.1-8

3 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Found via Wesley Daily - excellent post. Great Easter morning reading ;)

HymnSiteBlogger said...

Interesting post, but like so many other "scholarly" treatments of Gospel accounts, it adopts an arrogant and ultimately foolish approach. The Gospel does not end at Mark 16:8. In fact, the Gospel does not end in Mark. The Gospel does not end at all because it lives on today--except among those who revel in foolish rhetoric that tears away at the body of Christ's church instead of reveling in joyful proclamations that build it up.

Why do I call your work foolish? Ah, where to start. First let's assume as fact that the original version of the Gospel of Mark ended at chapter 16 and verse 8. It is a strong possibility, considering that some of the oldest copies of Mark's gospel stop there. Even so, who is to say that the additions were not subsequently penned or authorized by Mark himself? There is no evidence whatsoever that the additions were not authorized, but either that notion has not occurred to you, or it wouldn't fit your narrowminded focus on undermining the testimony of Christians who actually knew the truth of their faith through contemporaneous, first hand experience. Given a choice between their testimony and your analysis, your analysis carries no weight at all.

But let's continue to humor your "work" and further assume that Mark was neither the author of the additional verses, nor did he approve them. Once again, although there is no evidence whatsoever to support this assumption, it could rise to the level of a conjectural possibility. Would the absense of Mark's authorship or endorsement render the remaining verses false? Not at all! In fact, the most important truths are already reflected in the first eight verses of chapter 16, and the remaining verses are completely consistent with those truths. We are informed that the tomb was empty in verse six, and it remains empty for the rest of Mark's gospel. We are informed that Christ is risen in verse six, and He remains risen. We are informed that the women were instructed to tell the disciples. Although Mark records that they were feaful and did not talk at first, we have their story today. Eventually they told it. The rest of Mark's gospel confirms it.

The current "scholarly" handling of early Christian texts (which seems to be a source of delight for you) is focused on rejecting the veracity of scripture. The only way to achieve that result with respect to the conclusion of Mark's gospel, though, is through gross distortion and deliberate intellectual dishonesty (or is it simply woeful intellectual incompetence?).

I could almost endure your gibberish if you didn't seek to elevate your own credibility through word play on your name, but even a more humble presentation of yourself could not instill value in your post. Your writing tears against the witness of saints who paid for the spread of the truth of Christ with their blood. What have you given? How do you compare? You don't compare at all. None of us are worthy of grace, but it is hardly for you to disparage so much as a letter of Mark's gospel. Your writing will not live on for 2 years, much less the nearly 2,000 years that Mark's gospel has. Your writing will not inspire anyone to salvation in Christ, much less carry a message of hope throughout the world. Your arrogance will be buried with you. Mark's humility lives on to this day.

Build the church, "Methodist Bishop." Proclaim the Gospel. If you are called, then you must bear fruit. There is no evidence of fruit in what you have presented. All you have displayed here is your qualification to be pruned and burned. Display something better. If you are called, answer God's call, not man's. Don't yield to scholarly trends. Don't hunger for titles and status. Don't mistake earthly sensationalism for eternal salvation. God calls servants to a higher way. God calls you to a higher way.

Methodist Bishop said...

That's a very angry comment, chock full of assumptions that I won't actually agree with much of what you say, which actually I do because many of your assertions are axiomatic for Christians.

However, it is not correct to say there is no evidence to prove that Mark did not write the end of his Gospel. In fact, there is lots of internal evidence that the author or authors were not Mark himself.

It is irrelevant whether or not Mark authorised the way his Gospel ends. That would be pure conjecture anyway, something you don't appear to like. The fact is that the Church authorised the way the Gospel ends, as it authorised the entire contents of the New Testament.

I have no objection to the ending of the Gospel and, as you say, it is "Gospel" in the sense that it portrays the Easter message, but it is not Mark's Gospel. What interested me was the intriguing way that the Marcan part of the Gospel ends.

If you don't like scholarship I am sorry, but I will continue to use it to explore the message of scripture.
--