When I was in third grade, I found a cool new type of book called a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Instead of presenting a conventional story from beginning to end, these books allow you to choose which way you want the story to go. At certain points in the plot, the reader is presented with different options.
For example, say in the story there’s a little boy who wants to walk on the beach after dark. His mother says he can go if he goes with his brother, but the little boy wants to sneak off by himself. The book might say turn to page 12 for inviting the brother or to turn to page 19 for going alone. Once you turn to the page, you pick up the story from there until you come to another fork in the road and choose the next adventure. In these books, the author doesn’t have all the power in how the story plays out. The reader has a say.
The end of Mark’s gospel is similar. In many modern Bible translations, it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” ending. It’s important to realize that the Bibles we have today are compilations of ancient manuscripts translated into English. Turns out that the ancient manuscripts of Mark’s gospel have alternate endings. Some of the manuscripts end at verse 8. Some include a shorter ending after verse 8. And some include a longer ending with verses 19-20. Which shall we choose?
Well, only a few late manuscripts have the short ending after verse 8, so that’s not the best choice. And while several manuscripts end with verses 9-20, the earliest and best manuscripts stop at verse 8. Therefore, it's likely that Mark’s gospel originally ended at verse 8.
Funny thing is, even if we agree that Mark ends at verse 8, it’s still a “choose your own adventure” situation. Verse 8 says the women left the empty tomb and said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. The Greek word order at the end is, “They were afraid, for.” That’s right, English teachers: Mark’s gospel ends with a preposition. It leaves us hanging, begging for more. What happened after that? Mark doesn’t say. He leaves us with the women scared silent.
It’s not a proper ending. It’s more like the story just stops. There’s no wrap up. There’s no conclusion. There’s no closure. There’s no happily ever after. Everything is left up in the air. That’s why later scribes tried to give Mark’s gospel a more rounded conclusion. It’s almost as if Mark’s original story ends with ellipsis points. “The women were afraid, for…”
Perhaps Mark leaves us with the women running away scared because he wants to put us in their shoes. He wants us to choose our own adventure. He asks us to decide, not how the book will conclude, but how the story will continue.
As the women exit stage left, Mark ushers us onto the scene, stage right. We are the next act. We have the news that Jesus is resurrected from the grave. Today's church writes the next chapter. Do we believe or do we doubt? Do we have faith or give way to fear? Do we tell the story or keep silent? Do we follow the risen Jesus or do what we wish with our lives? Do we believe in eternal life or see no hope beyond the grave? Mark has dropped his pen for us to pick up. It’s time to choose your own adventure.
Pastor Noel Schoonmaker
First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN