“Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)
These words may appear unfamiliar to most of us. There is a very good reason for that. The Church never proclaims them in any of the readings in the Lectionary for Mass. Verse eight of the sixteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the original ending of the Gospel. The women have come to the tomb. They have found the stone rolled back from the entrance to the tomb. They saw a man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side of the tomb who told them to go and announce to the disciples that Jesus had been raised and that he would meet them in Galilee. Mark then tells us that the women were so seized with fear that kept the whole affair to themselves.
Mark’s Gospel appeared first. It is the oldest and the most primitive of the Gospel narratives. Years after its first publication, a second and a third ending were added to the text to record the appearances of Jesus as they are told in the other three Gospels. What we hear proclaimed in the Gospel for today’s liturgy is one of those redacted endings. In this ending we are told that he was seen by Mary Magdalen, by two disciples as they were returning “to the country,” and to the Eleven gathered in the Upper Room where he commissioned them to preach the Gospel. (If you are interested in the other ending, you can check the notes that are included with chapter sixteen on the USCCB website: www.usccb.org/bible/mark/16.)
We should not be surprised either by the original ending or by the fact that the Gospel was redacted or amended. First of all, let us consider what might have been our own reaction to coming to a burial site and encountering what these women encountered. Secondly, we know that many texts within the Scriptures were rewritten or redacted. We learn this through a careful study of the various manuscripts. The Scriptures were never meant to be historical documents. They are, rather, faith documents that are the foundation for the truths that the Church believes and teaches.
There were NO eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. This case would never stand up in a court of law. The Gospels record different time lines, different groups of women, differing accounts regarding the number of angels, and an account that singles out Mary Magdalene as the sole recipient of the angel’s message. The Resurrection can only be understood by faith. We have heard the testimony and are called to believe.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator