Jesus Still Goes Before Us

BindingAn excerpt from Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988), reflecting upon the open tomb ending of the first Gospel.

We should not be surprised that the women are overcome with “fear.” The disciples have in fact been described as “fearful” (phobeisthai) at several important “passages” in their journey with Jesus: both stormy boat crossings (4:41; 6:50), his transfiguration (9:6), the portents of his execution (9:32), and the journey up to Jerusalem (10:32). And does not this closing scene represent the most difficult passage of all? For in it the martyr-figure beckons the disciple to take up the journey afresh, to return to the beginning of the story for a new reading-enactment. The young man’s invitation ought to provoke trepidation in us, if we take it seriously. As Bonhoeffer paraphrased Mark 8:34 in Cost of Discipleship (1953), “When Christ calls a person, He bids them to come a die.”

The second epilogue, like the first (8:21), ends with a challenge to the reader in the form of an unresolved question. Will we “flee” or will we “follow”? This cannot be resolved in the narrative moment, only in the historical moment of the reader. Whether or not we actually “see” Jesus again depends upon whether the disciple/readers renew their commitment to the journey. It is at this point that we should recall the mysterious words of 9:10: “And they held fast to his word, but discussed among themselves ‘What is the meaning of resurrection from the dead?'” Here at the end of the story we find ourselves in exactly the same position. We do not entirely understand what “resurrection” means, but if we have understood the story, we should be “holding fast” to what we do know: that Jesus still goes before us, summoning us to the way of the cross. And that is the hardest ending of all: not tragedy, not victory, but an unending challenge to follow anew. Because that means we must respond.

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