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The Good News of Fear

I’m destroying continuity, but it’s time…

You’ve probably heard this before: the book of Mark doesn’t necessarily have a very happy ending. At least not the ending that was in the earliest manuscripts. And that ending, me being the pessimistic cynic that I am, is my favorite. The final statement in the book is “for they were afraid.” Now, what is the reader supposed to do with that? You’re going to be shocked, but I have some thoughts.

The book ends much like it begins. As Mark starts, you read a few sentences about John the Baptist preparing the way, and all of the sudden you’re intimately involved in the life and work of the Messiah Jesus. Isaiah tells us how to interpret who John is, then the messenger John tells us about the imminent coming of Jesus, and then Jesus appears and God from heaven affirms for us who Jesus is. At the end of the book, Jesus dies, is entombed, then sentences later we find out he’s out of the tomb and a character we’ve never met is another messenger claiming why the tomb is empty. Mark is bookended by messenger’s proclaiming who Jesus is. “He has risen” we are told through the white robed messenger’s words to the women. But we never see Jesus.

Mark doesn’t tell us about the characters seeing Jesus. The white robed messenger tells the women to go back to the disciples and they will find him there. But we never get to see the women go there. In fact, we hear from Mark that the women don’t go and tell the good news of the risen Jesus because they were afraid. And that’s the last Mark tells us about Jesus. Two women were afraid to talk about him. Two people heard from a messenger of the gospel that Jesus was alive and they fled too afraid to tell anyone. This is Mark’s gospel. This is the way Mark concludes his story of the “good news.”*

This is also an idea that peaks its head out repeatedly in the book of Mark until it’s completely exposed at the end. I think if I tell you some stories it might become clear. In Mark 4 we have the scene with the disciples in a boat in the middle of a storm and Jesus is taking a nap in the boat. And the disciples are afraid that they’re going to die and wake Jesus to scold him for his apathy. Jesus then calms the storm with his words and says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?” And their question? “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Excellent question.

In Mark 5 we have two stories. First, Jesus finds out that a daughter of a synagogue ruler is sick, so he goes to heal her. On his way, a woman who believed in him touched his robe and was healed of her disease. Jesus knew he had just healed someone, so he asks who it was. The woman then bowed before him with “fear and trembling” and Jesus tells her that she doesn’t need this fear, “your faith has healed you; go in peace.” Then he arrives at Jairus’, the synagogue ruler, house and it turns out his daughter has already died. But Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” And the girl everyone believes to be dead and beyond hope rises alive and well. Even Jesus’ words to not share what happened appear to have been ineffective.**

In Mark 9 there is a loving father that just wants his little boy to be free from a demon that has plagued the boy since he was very young. It’s a sad story. It grows sadder because Jesus’ disciples can’t cast it out. And the desperate man, afraid for his son, tells Jesus to do something if he can. Jesus responds, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The man, wanting to believe that Jesus can but feeling unable to cries out desperate for his son to be free, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus frees the boy from the demon, but the boy lies there like a corpse and the crowd thinks the boy has died. Jesus grabs his hand and the boy rises. Another story of rising from the dead.

Do you see? You know what the contrasting ideas are in these stories? Fear and faith. The gospel of Mark is scary, sad, difficult, confusing, and it ends without concluding. But there is hope! Hope through faith. Only hope through faith. As the story moves closer to the crucifixion, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples (and us) that he will die and rise, that’s it’s a necessary part of his life, that this death and resurrection is what he came to do. There is hope that Jesus has risen, but because Mark never shows us the resurrected Jesus, our hope is the same hope that the women can have, only hope through faith.

If you can feel the holes in Jesus’ hands, it does not take trust in his words, his past power over death, and his messenger’s words that he is risen. We, like the women, will only find hope in faith. Our only way of overcoming the fear is overwhelming it with belief. If we want hope, if we are desperate enough for Jesus’ power in our lives, we must believe and let Jesus help our unbelief. We must not be afraid, only believe. Only through belief is the gospel of Mark hopeful. Without belief, there is only a dead Messiah. And that’s terrifying and confusing. Belief brings clarity and incredible hope.

The story is more relevant now than it even was to Mark’s original readers because we are more distant from the resurrection than they were. The story is replete with questions that it turns out Mark has been asking us all along. Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him? Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith? Why are you making a commotion and weeping? Who you say I am? Do you have eyes that see and ears that hear? Do you believe what Jesus said about his death and resurrection? Do you believe his messengers? Do you still not understand?
*Don’t see this shit in an evangelism pamphlet.

** Cuz we all just read this story. This brief post could is also loaded with undertones of sharing the message of Jesus because the same Scriptures we’re using are loaded with these, but as overtones.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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