WHY IS SO MUCH OF MARK’S GOSPEL, and all four gospels for that matter, taken up with the passion story, that is the five days from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry until his crucifixion? Five days of his thirty-three year life merit almost a third of the Gospel. Why is that?
One reason might be that the early church could so readily identify with this story, that of conflict and confrontation with political and religious authorities, of the persecution and suffering arising from them, and the need to hold forth “the good confession” with courage and love, but without violence, hatred or cowardice. “The servant is no greater than his master,” Jesus said. “And if they hated me, they will hate you as well.” The Passion story then is not just a story about the accomplishment of sacrificial atonement and resurrection victory (it is that), it is also a pattern for disciples and discipleship.
THE END OF MARK’S GOSPEL, from chapter 16: 9-20, is controversial, to say the least. The earliest and best manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8, “they were afraid,” providing no accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances as do the other gospels, which has always seemed strange. It’s not that Mark and his gospel do not believe in a resurrection; it is foretold several times in Mark, and its what the angel (or young man in white) commands the women at the tomb to tell the disciples. The best explanation I have encountered is that by ending the gospel originally this way, Mark leaves us with a question mark (no pun intended): Did the women testify to the risen Jesus? Will you? Yes,the whole mysterious thing is scary, as is testifying. But will that fear stop you?
As for verses 9-20, they have an entirely different tone and style from the rest of Mark’s Gospel, and appear to have been added in at a later date. Yet we cannot dismiss them as sub-canonical; the Gospel commended to us as canonical by the early church was known at that time (the 4th C.) with this ending. And it shares similarities and references common to other gospel passages and The Acts of the Apostles, such as “speaking in other tongues,” and “handling poisonous serpents without being harmed.” So while this ending does not strike me as coming from Mark’s hand, it still strikes me as apostolic, full of words and works of Jesus attested to by other biblical writings, and thus to be taken seriously.
PSALM 86 is a lament of David, that could reflect the time he was pursued by Saul, the arrogant and godless enemies mentioned in verse 14. Whenever we are persecuted, however much without reason, this Psalm models for us 1) looking to God for help; 2) seeking wisdom; 3) reflecting upon our own need to grow in wisdom.
PSALM 87 is a Zion psalm, which, for the time of its composition, makes some very bold claims, namely, that people of the enemy nations mentioned in verse 4 (including Sudan/Ethiopia, or “Cush”), would provide devotees of Zion and of Zion’s God some day, who would count the city of God as the source of their joy (7). They would be readily adopted into Zion’s citizenship. A bold claim to make, when for much of its history, Zion and the surrounding state of Judah were small outposts of YHWH God’s worship and faith. From verse 3 comes the title for the hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” One can follow the thread of the Zion theme through the Psalms to its fulfillment in Revelation 21-22.
PSALM 88 is a lament, ascribed to the sons of Korah, who, we have seen from other psalms, were commissioned by King David with much responsibility for worship. Unlike most other biblical laments, this one does not end with a word of hope or faith, but literally, of darkness. The whole psalm resonates with the human experience of depression. That such human words to God are now God’s word to humans should make us more compassionate and better equipped to respond to depression, whether our own or that of another. The psalmist still has faith, maybe even greater faith than have we when things are going well, in that the psalmist can still at least bring his or her doubt, grief, anger and despair to God, honestly.
Lament can be to the soul what lancing is to a blister: a necessary and health-provoking act. The alternatives to lament are either numbness, along with surrender and acceptance of injustice, even profiting from it, or rage, acting and lashing out in violence, verbal, psychological or physical, against others or one self. In our faith and in our faith communities, place must be made for genuine lament, for reasons of spiritual and emotional health. Otherwise, we are only acting at faith.