Rewriting and Resurrecting the Gospel
April 26, 2014
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:9-15, 20)
From time to time the Gospel says things I don’t like to hear. This is the Church’s book and while I know it is foundational, I often find it to be problematic. Sometimes the text makes demands that are too great (Love your enemies? What?). Other times I don’t find its message helpful (Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword? Yikes!).
Part of my deep love for our sacred text is the dilemma it presents when I encounter that discomfort. Am I responding to the text because I don’t want to listen to it or because it is no longer helpful to us today? Once I discern whence my pause, what is the next step? If the problem is with me and my unwillingness to listen I begin the work of repentance (which is continual). If the problem is with the text, I must wrestle with how to respond.
Sometimes that means modifying the text to make it more palatable. This is both an ancient and modern practice. In fact, the text we read today was not in the original version of Mark’s Gospel! Mark’s Gospel originally ends at verse 8 with the women disobeying the command of the angel to proclaim Christ’s resurrection and then fleeing in fear. Some early readers found that wholly unacceptable and added the verses we read today. Similarly, the editors of the Revised Common Lectionary found the original bits about handling snakes and drinking poison a bit too unsavory for faithful church folk so they conveniently skipped over those verses.
Other times we have to find new ways to read the text. What happens when we demand that the text speak good news? What new and creative insights might be gleaned if we expect to find hope?
Share on Facebook and/or Twitter a text that you find difficult under the hashtag #trickytexts. Invite others to reflect on that text with you to discern how that text may yet speak life in unexpected ways.
Thank you for this reflection. It gives me a great deal to think about and that is what we all need. I am enjoying 50 Days of Fabulous. It is a great follow-up to Lent Madness which I am still withdrawing from :).
A difficult story is the ending of one version of the parable of the king who gave a feast for his son. Because those he had invited didn’t show, he had to round up a bunch of strangers and homeless-type folks. One of these shows up at the door and is banished because he’s not all dressed up.
What did the king expect?! The guy’s been hauled in off the street–I love the old “highways and hedgerows”–and he’s expected to be wearing a tux?
I’ve heard all sorts of explanations–the king provided clothing, it’s a matter of attitude, etc.–and I’m still not satisfied.
Anyone have any other ideas?
That always bothers me, too. There are a few parables that seem so spiteful. So, they must be metaphor, but it is hard to see past the meaness. The fig tree one bugs me.
David, Your Reflection gives me much to think about, thank you! For me it is the work of acceptance rather than repentance that is a continual process. I suppose it is because I have been sober in AA for 25 years and we are always talking about accepting the things we cannot change:
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ This is the short version of the prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. You may already know it, but just in case . . . Regards and blessings, Kit