An Untidy Holy Life

22 Feb

ἐφοβοῦντο γὰρ

The last two words we know (for sure) belong in the gospel of Mark as originally written (16:8).

They are pronounced something like “eh-pho-boun-to gar.” Two words meaning, “For they were afraid.” Only the literal word order is “they were afraid, for.”

I don’t think it takes a scholar to tell that the traditional long ending and the footnoted short ending (if your translation makes you privy to it) of Mark’s gospel are out of step with the rhythm of the rest of the telling. It’s pretty much apparent to the naked eye. Most scholars that I’ve read also tend to agree (it’s so nice when scholars agree with you, isn’t it? Nice scholars.)

And then the debate begins.

Did Mark really end his telling of Jesus with the untidy conjunction “for”? It seems unthinkable that he or anyone would end a sentence with “for” let alone an entire book.

Early Christian scribes must have agreed, because they worked overtime to provide a fitting ending with appropriate flourish.

And as for the real ending? Most surmise that it is simply lost to us.

This, of course, can play havoc with the idea that such could happen in the ultimate revelation of God in written form from which not one jot or tittle can by any means disappear – let alone the last page or paragraph of a book.

But, you know, I actually like it. Makes the Book wonderfully human, doesn’t it? To my eye and heart there are so many sublime markers of divine DNA in the Book; how refreshing that it’s still so human that we can screw up and lose a page of it!

No, I don’t think Mark intended to end his telling with the words ἐφοβοῦντο γὰρ but how fitting that’s where we run out of road.

Untidy. Unexpectedly truncated. Just like so much of life. Just like us.

Came across this entry from the journalings of Thomas Merton from February, 1953, and it forms an interesting convergence – one that strikes at the core of our desire for and even conviction that our life, particularly our life in God in this world, has a full and fitting ending from which no notes are ultimately missing:

Today we commemorate Blessed Conrad – one of the Cistercian hermits.

I might as well say that in the novitiate I did not like the hermits of our Order. Their stories where inconclusive. They seemed to have died before finding out what they were supposed to achieve.

Now I know there is something important about the very incompleteness of Blessed Conrad: hermit in Palestine, by St. Bernard’s permission. Starts home for Clairvaux when he hears St. Bernard is dying. Gets to Italy and hears St. Bernard is dead. Settles in a wayside chapel outside Bari and dies there. What an untidily unplanned life! No order, no sense, no system, no climax. Like a book without punctuation that suddenly ends in the middle of a sentence.

Yet I know that those are the books I really like!

Blessed Conrad cannot possibly be solidified or ossified in history. He can perhaps be caught and held in a picture, but he is like a photograph of a bird in flight – too accurate to look the way a flying bird seems to appear to us. We never saw the wings in that position. Such is the solitary vocation. For, of all me, the solitary knows least where he is going, and yet is more sure, for there is one thing he cannot doubt: he travels where God is leading him. That is precisely why he doesn’t know the way. And that too is why, to most other men, the way is something of a scandal.

Scandal. Untidy but holy scandal. Like a photograph of a bird in flight – like those women running from the tomb for fear; like me missing my mother’s passing from this earth by a day; missing my father’s by hours. No neat closure. No captured final words. And sometimes perhaps that happens; sometimes there is wonderful and perfect closure with all the punctuation correctly in place and no pages or leaves of the manuscript lost – don’t feel guilty if it does. Be thankful. But most of life, it would seem, has a much more untidy manuscript.

I’m reminded of Pancho Villa’s reported last words (according to this morning’s tea bag): “Don’t tell them that it ended like this. Tell them I said something.”

Yes, such are the books I really like, for

1 Comment

Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Gospel of Mark, musings


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One response to “An Untidy Holy Life

  1. Randall

    February 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Awesome word, Pastor Mike. We are taught in our culture and by Hollywood that we need to have closure and preferably a happy ending, and we are so dismayed, and even feel cheated when we don’t get it. “It’s so unfair!” we cry when it should be “It’s so life!” Closure will come at a different time at a different place than here in this mortal coil. Thanks.


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