Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Easter Sunday (Year B) (31 March 2024)

Gospel for Easter Sunday (Year B) (31 March 2024)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

For the Gospel reading today, any one of the following may be chosen: Mark 16:1-8; John 20:1-9; Luke 24:13-35. I have chosen Mark 16:1-8.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:1-8 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


The Gospel to be read omits the last sentence of this passage – “So they went out and fled from the tomb etc.”. This omission is unfortunate. If you wanted to write a convincing account of a “resurrection-that-did-not-happen” you would not write this last sentence!

There are two factors at play here. The first is Mark’s account of what happened and the second is the early Christian community’s oral tradition: “One must distinguish between the Markan empty tomb account (probably a Markan composition) and the empty tomb tradition (a necessary presupposition for the early Christian proclamation about Jesus’ resurrection)” (J R Donahue & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 459). The empty tomb, on its own, of course does not prove that Jesus rose from the dead. His body could have been stolen, for example.

“The text of Mark’s Gospel seems to break off somewhat awkwardly at 16:8 (‘For they were afraid’). The ‘endings’ found in some manuscripts (see the next unit) are generally regarded as non-Markan additions to the main text. The sudden ending at 16:8 has been explained in various ways. It is possible (but not very likely) that the evangelist died or was otherwise prevented from finishing his work. A better possibility is that the last page (or pages) of Mark’s Gospel was lost. This is suggested by the anticipation of the appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples in Galilee that is mentioned in 14:28 and 16:7. A third possibility (and the one that most scholars embrace today) is that Mark deliberately broke off his narrative at 16:8 (‘For they were afraid’).

“Proponents of the third explanation usually appeal to Mark’s skill as a writer (though some have called him ‘clumsy’) and especially to his literary genius in leaving the story of Jesus open-ended and demanding a decision from the reader. Since Mark wrote mainly (if not exclusively) for fellow Christians he could expect all his readers to know the early Christian proclamation about the resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, in each of the Passion predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34) there has been a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. To those who know about and believe in Jesus’ resurrection Mark is effectively saying: Go back and read again the story of Jesus the wonderful teacher and healer who is the suffering but now vindicated Messiah and Son of God.

“If Mark 16:8 was the original ending of the gospel, what does this mean for our understanding of the women disciples? In particular, what do we make out of Mark’s very emphatic comment in 16:8: ‘they said nothing to anyone’? In this Markan context the women fail to carry out the commission given to them by the ‘young man’ to go and tell Jesus’ disciples about the appearances of the risen Jesus that they were to experience in Galilee (16:7). In a sense their failure matches the failure of the male disciples so richly documented in chs. 14 and 15. If this is so, then Mark is saying to his readers that the character most worthy of their imitation is Jesus, and that even his earliest male and female followers, whatever their merits may have been, are not as worthy of their imitation as Jesus is.

“The gospel then ends as it began, with a message from God (1:3; 16:7) pointing to a meeting with Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. As the good news of Jesus was rooted in Isaiah (see Isa 40:3 in Mark 1:3), the final command of the ‘young man’ also echoes Isaiah, with its rhythm of forgiveness and restoration after failure: ‘I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn darkness before them into light’ (Isa 42:16; see Sharyn Echols Dowd, Reading Mark, 167–69). The blindness that characterized the disciples throughout (see 8:18) will be lifted, to be replaced by seeing the risen Jesus in Galilee” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, op cit, 460-461).


You are looking for Jesus: Given Mark’s use of this expression, we might assume that this is a gentle rebuke of the women: “When the disciples find Jesus they announce, “‘Everyone is looking for you.’” Again, the language is deceptive. The Greek word behind “looking for” (zētein) occurs ten times in Mark, and in each instance it carries negative connotations. Its first two occurrences refer to interference of Jesus and obstruction of his ministry (1:37; 3:32); its next two refer to disbelief and faithlessness (8:11; 8:12); and the remaining occurrences refer to attempts to kill Jesus (11:18; 12:12; 14:1; 14:11; 14:55). ‘Seeking’ connotes an attempt to determine and control rather than to submit and follow. In this respect, seeking for Jesus is not a virtue in the Gospel of Mark. Nor are clamoring crowds a sign of success or aid to ministry. Here, as elsewhere in Mark, enthusiasm is not to be confused with faith; indeed, it can oppose faith” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 66-67).

The women and the work of God

In today’s Gospel – Mark 16:1-8 – we have an account of the three women at the tomb of Jesus. Mark’s account of this event has an immediacy and a naivete about it. It feels like a first-hand description. Mark has already introduced the three women, along with some others. They are there at the crucifixion – “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” (15:40-41) – and the two are named – but not Salome – as being present when the body is laid in the tomb – “Then Joseph (of Arimathea) bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid” (15:46-47).

Today’s Gospel begins with the three women – the two Marys plus Salome – on their way to the tomb to anoint the corpse. They are talking about who will roll away the stone. When they arrive at the tomb, the stone has already been rolled away. The implication is clearly that God has taken care of this task which would have been impossible for them. There is an important symbolism here: “The removal of the stone suggests that in all respects the resurrection of Jesus is entirely God’s work. The human role in the event is that of witness, not worker” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 492).

The women “entered the tomb, (and) saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side”. Again, a reminder from inside the tomb this time, that God is in this place. The women are to be witnesses of that.

The “young man” draws them deeper into the reality of it all – “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here”. The expression, “looking for” – zēteō – is always used in Mark’s Gospel with a negative connotation. It carries the sense of people looking for “Jesus” who will fit their expectations. These expectations get in the way of what God is doing in Jesus. We can fairly assume that there is a gentle rebuke of the women here. They are preoccupied with their task and this is preventing them from seeing the truth of the moment. We can, of course, understand that. They were present, remember, on Calvary. They have come to bring closure on the darkest chapter in their lives. Yet, the “young man” is gently reminding them that the brightest chapter has already begun!