Gospel (B): Mark 16:15-20
The End of Days
What does the phrase "end of days" mean to you?
Hollywood has produced a hand full of major pictures about the end of the world. Many of these films had two things in common. Their plot lines involved the Catholic Church (usually as an agent of a conspiracy cover-up). And their plots so misconstrued the Christian message, the forces of evil were given far more power than they should. (How else can you have action films about the end of the world?) Of course, the film makers twisted the truth to make a profit.
Unlike Hollywood, Mark's gospel presented a different spin on the end. The Church would act as an agent of change (not of the status quo). And the forces of evil would suffer defeat.
15 Jesus told his followers, "Go everywhere and tell everyone about the Good News. 16 Those who believed and were baptized will be saved. But the unbelievers will be condemned.
17 These signs will follow believers:
In my name,
they will throw demons out of people,
they will say amazing things in different languages,
18 they will pick up snakes,
if they drink a deadly poison, they will not be hurt,
and they will put their hands on the sick who will get better."
19 After he spoke to his followers, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven. He sat on the right hand of God. 20 His followers went out and preached everywhere. The Lord worked with them and God's Word confirmed what they said with signs that proved their preaching was true.
(Note: Mark 16:15-20 is derived from the so-called "Longer Ending" (Mark 16:9-20). The vocabulary and style of these passages argue against Mark's authorship. Hence they were added by a scribe or later editor. However, the Roman Catholic Church implied their canonicity at the Council of Trent.)
The author of these passages proposed a list of signs for the end of the world and general witness to those who went out to preach. At the root of both lay the Lord's command to "Go and preach the Good News."
15 HE said to them, "Go into the entire world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. 16 The one having believed and having been baptized will be saved, but the one not having believed will be condemned. 17 To those having believed, these signs will follow: in my name they will expel demons, in tongues they will speak new (things), 18 they will lift up snakes, if they drink something deadly, it indeed will not hurt them, on the sick they will lay hands and (the sick) will get better."
16:15 "Go into the entire world" is actually a past participle "having gone into the entire world." Since the participle modifies the imperative "proclaim," it carries the same force. Hence, it is translated as an imperative.
16:16 "will be saved . . . will be condemned" Mark inferred both actions will take place on Judgment Day.
16:17 "in tongues they will speak new (things)" The phrase can have three different meanings. First, the utterance is in a new, unintelligible language (a "charismatic utterance" as 1 Cor. 14). Second, the utterance is in a different language (a proclamation of the Good News in a language where it has not been heard before, as in Acts 2:4-11). Finally, the utterance is new to the speaker (an unexpected statement promoted by the Spirit, as Jesus promised in Matthew 10:20). Some translate this phrase as "they will speak in new tongues," which favors the first two meanings. The popular translation above favors the last two meanings.
16:18 "it indeed will not hurt them" This phrase is emphatic because it contains a double negative ("it in no way will not hurt them").
The author began with order for traveling evangelization. "Go everywhere and preach the Good News to everyone," mirrored Jesus' own mobile ministry. The disciples were to do as Jesus did, but only on a universal scale. In fact, the ministry of Jesus became THE sign of the end times. Instead of judgment, the power of God's Word would be revealed. The Good News would be proclaimed. And evil would be rejected. Those who accepted God's Word would be saved (i.e., they would participate in these signs of the end times). But those who rejected God's Word (who refused to accept the Good News and its accompanying signs) were lost.
Mark 16:17-18 described fives signs of the end times, all done in the name of Jesus. They were:
1) expelling demons.
2) speaking new things in tongues.
3) picking up snakes (serpents).
4) not being harmed if poison is drank.
5) healing the weak.
Notice that signs 1 and 3 parallel each other. So do signs 2 and 4. Signs 1 and 3 signaled the power of the disciple over Satan. (The snake or "serpent" symbolized evil personified in the culture of Jesus.) The follower could handle or expel the Evil One in the name of Jesus.
Signs 2 and 4 signaled the power of proclaimed Word. In a culture that distrusted novelty, people would be amazed at new message God communicated through Jesus and his followers. The message could be a new revelation, a proclamation to a new (and foreign) audience, or a new prayer. No matter. Through Jesus and his followers, everyone would hear God's Word. And nothing, not even poison, would stop God's work!
Signs 1 and 2 described the work of the end times in positive terms (the good the disciples would perform). Signs 3 and 4 described the work in negative terms (the evil the followers would be free from). Sign 5 bridged the gap between the two sets of signs. The disciples would free the weak, those who were "bitten by the snake" and "poisoned." In other words, the believer would partake in the ministry of Jesus: to bring others from the powers of Satan (whether physical, spiritual, or moral evil) to the Father.
19 Then the LORD JESUS after he spoke to them was taken up into heaven and he sat on the right (hand) of God. 20 But those having gone out preached everywhere, as the Lord worked together (with them) and the Word confirmed (their preaching) through accompanying signs.
16:20 This sentence has some difficulty caused by the adverbial phrase "as the Lord worked . . . and the Word confirmed." If we first consider the beginning and the ending of the sentence, we can gain a better sense of its import. The disciples preached and performed signs (some of which were listed in 16:17-18). The signs "accompanied" "or (literally) "followed after" the preaching, not in the sense of appendage but in the sense of authentication. The signs proved the power of the preaching.
Actually, the preaching and signs complimented each other. They both revealed the presence of the Risen Lord and power of God's Word. Both showed the believer and unbeliever the presence of the saving God. In this sense, the Risen Lord "worked together" with those preaching and performing signs. And God's Word "confirmed" the actions of the ministers.
The author implied a belief of the ancient Church that we moderns fail to recognize: the end times began with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. For the author, 16:19 was a logical conclusion to this beginning. The Risen Lord now reigned with the Father in heaven. They were now One. And the Father exercised his power through his Son.
Since the "name" of the Son revealed his power (that found its source in the Father), disciples who preached and healed in the name of Jesus did so because the Father willed it. These disciples were part of God's plan for salvation. They had the cooperation of the Risen Lord and the power of the Father's Word.
Catechism Themes: Christ already reigns through his Church . . . (CCC 668-670) & Until all things are subject to him. (CCC 671-672)
Christ's Ascension into heaven symbolized his Lordship. He now revealed his participation in the Father's power and authority. What the Son possessed by his divinity nature, he made manifest in the economy of salvation.
While Christ now reigns with his Father, he still dwells in his Body, the Church. Through the Church, Christ acts in the world. Through the Church he announces the immanence of God's Kingdom. The Church, imperfect as an assembly of sinners, still dares to declare the Kingdom. For the Church is made whole through the work of Christ's Spirit.
So, we await the coming of our Savior in these "end times." At Christ's second coming, all that God promised will happen. We will live forever in justice, love, and peace.
What notions do you have about the end of the world? How does this gospel differ from your expectations for the end?
What will the end be like? Will it come in a fiery battle between good and evil (Hollywood's preferred ending)? Or will it come in the blink of an eye, where everything is changed? We don't know how it will happen, but we do know who will be present at the end. Christ will return to raise up the faithful and send away the evil. Then there will be eternal peace with the Lord in charge. Do we really need to know anything else about the end?
Slowly pray the Our Father. Reflect on its meaning, not as a prayer for present need, but as a prayer for the coming of the last day. How does your recitation change your outlook on the prayer?