The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.–Mark 1:1
This first verse of Mark’s gospel, not even a complete sentence, might be read over, like the instructions to tests that my students so frequently skip. After all, who needs to read this meaningless stuff. That first verse is more along the lines of a title than anything of actual substance, right?
Of course in the textual reality of Mark’s gospel, that is the case. John Mark probably wrote these words to indicate the beginning of his document and to suggest the topic to be covered in the coming columns of scroll. However, when we see a bookend of this sort, announcing the beginning of something, we can scarcely avoid looking around for the corresponding bookend that announces the ending of the same. Isn’t it ironic, then, that the ending of Mark’s gospel is debated so heatedly by scholars?
Certainly the text that has come down to us as Mark has an ending. John Mark penned an original ending, which may or may not be the present ending. Regardless, this gospel has an ending as do all written works. Even The Neverending Story had an ending. But there’s a difference between the gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Gabriel greets Mary in Luke 1, he tells her that Jesus’ kingdom will never end. In Revelation 22:13, we hear Jesus announce himself as the “alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.” Not only does the actual Gospel not have a beginning outside of Jesus, it has no ending beyond him. Why does Mark–and later John–begin his account with John the Baptist? Why not go back to the birth of the baby as did Matthew or to the announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus as in Luke? Why indeed? The story has to begin somewhere, but it could as easily go back to Moses bringing Israel out of Egypt, or Joseph saving his family, or Abraham offering up Isaac, or Noah preserving a remnant of humanity, or the Garden of Eden.
In these pages, Mark takes on an impossible task, relating the Good News of Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, within the confines of limited language and finite space.
More to our point, Mark, after announcing a beginning of the Good News, does not signal an end. While that might have been his rhetorical choice, the absence of such phrasing reminds us that the Good News of Jesus does not find a termination. It continues well past the lives of Peter and Mark, past the next generations of believers, past the Reformation and the Great Awakenings, past Jeremiah Farmer who planted my home church 160 years ago, and past me to however many new generations will populate this earth after me.
We can, I think, forgive Mark for not getting all of that recorded within his sixteen chapters.