A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The Fourth Week invites us to share the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection. They claimed to have seen Jesus alive, not in a dream or as an apparition, but in the bodily form they had known him before he was crucified. While their experience cannot be proven, it transformed their lives from fear and cowardice into great joy and the courage to preach the gospel they had learned from him to the ends of the earth (Mk 16:20). Here we present a general introduction to the subject matter of this week and then the first of two accounts in Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ Resurrection (16:1-8).

The grace of the Fourth Week is to experience the joy and glory of the risen Christ.[2] Short formulas expressing Jesus’ resurrection emerged between 35-40 AD proclaiming that God had “raised Jesus from among the dead” to new life. Other formulas described him as having “died and risen” to live “exalted” and now “seated at the right hand of (God’s) throne.”[3] Around 55-56 AD, Paul offered what has been accepted as the earliest Christian credal formula.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I had in turn received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me. (1 Cor 15:3-8)[4]

For Christians, Jesus’ resurrection transcends history. It was a privileged experience of Jesus’ closest disciples that proleptically glimpsed the risen Christ at the end of time (parousia). Today, it offers hope for believers that what God has done for Jesus in raising him from the dead, God will do for them for their fidelity to him and the work he began on behalf of the kingdom of God.

The appearance stories depict Jesus’ disciples as not initially recognizing him. One explanation for this is that he has been transformed into his glorified state. He is no longer of this world, but beyond it. However, when they do recognize him, he is not devoid of a body and living within an immortal soul, as Greek culture might have expressed the resurrection experience. Rather, his disciples encountered him as a whole person, body and soul, engaging them in the relationships and experiences they had previously shared with him, only now living freed from death and in the fullness of God’s love.[5]

Belief in the resurrection was accepted by some in first century Jewish Palestine. While the Sadducees denied its occurrence, the Pharisees actively proclaimed it as occurring at the parousia. The early Christian communities also professed their belief that Jesus’ resurrection was the first of a universal resurrection experience that would occur for the righteous at the end of time.[6]

In composing the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius described Jesus’ resurrection appearances as beginning with his mother,[7] as rightfully being the first to share in this privileged experience. The appearances described by the evangelists were intended to explain the meaning of the risen Christ to new generations of believers. In their deepest sense, they attempt to explain the eschatological victory of the risen Christ over death and his disciples’ call to participate in it.[8]

The appearance stories have three defining moments. First, Jesus offers forgiveness and a renewed offer of salvation to those who betrayed him. Second, Jesus’ bodily presence makes clear that suffering and death do not have the final word in history. Third, Jesus sends his disciples in mission on behalf of the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.[9]

Mark’s gospel provides two different endings. The shorter one, and most likely the original ending, offers no resurrection appearances. It simply ends on the first day of the week after the sabbath.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint (Jesus). 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.[10] 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.”[11] 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.[12] (16:1-8)

The abrupt ending to Mark’s gospel leaves not only the women who fled the tomb in fear to come to terms with what they had experienced. It also leaves the reader to do the same. For Mark, the empty tomb does not prove Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, it is the young man, an angelic presence, who challenges the woman and reader to recognize the salvific significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is now their responsibility to proclaim that in raising Jesus from the dead, God’s love has overcome hatred and restored life where there was death. This is the Easter message and it can only be authentically proclaimed by those who believe Jesus now lives exalted and in the fullness of God’s love.[13]

This shorter version of Mark’s gospel is intended to leave the reader confused. Jesus has been abandoned by all. We, the reader, are left to ponder the meaning of not just the ending of the story, but the gospel in its entirety. Will we see with the eyes of faith and follow Jesus in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God?  Consequently, there is a decision to be made. Boring explains it this way.

“The final words of the messenger, ‘just as he said to you,’ point the reader back not only to 14:28, but into the narrative as a whole. The series of predictions made by the Markan Jesus have been fulfilled; the one mocked and condemned as a false prophet has shown himself a faithful spokesperson for God, and the reader may be sure the prediction of the post-resurrection reunion of Jesus with his disciples will be fulfilled, though its fulfillment is not plotted in the narrative itself. Moreover: the future will unfold not as new revelations from the risen Jesus, but as the continual re-appropriation of what the Markan Jesus has already said in the narrative the readers have just heard. The Gospel seems to end on an incomplete and troubling note, but ‘this ending is not the end of the gospel, but only the end of the beginning of the gospel.’”[14]

Mark’s gospel has already made clear Jesus is the Christ (1:1), the Lord (1:3), the beloved Son of God (1:11). We have followed him throughout his public ministry (8:34-9:1), passion (14:43-15:16) and death (15:21-47). We have also been told he has been raised from the dead and that his disciples will see him in Galilee (16:6-7). As Mark’s gospel ends, we stand alone before an empty tomb. The angelic messenger has told us Jesus is not to be found in the tomb. He has been raised. His disciples and the women have abandoned him in fear.[15] There is only one question to be resolved. Will we believe the gospel story and the Easter message we have heard, or will we too flee in fear?

Let us pray for the faith to accept the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Easter message. May we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus in this world (Mk 8:34). In doing so, let us willingly accept the cost of discipleship and trust that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will do the same for us if we remain faithful to God’s will and Jesus’ work on behalf of the kingdom of God.

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L.J. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 221.

[3] J.A. Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, (Miami, FL: Convivium Press, 2007), 387-91. To be ‘raised’ is to be exalted, that is, to be introduced into God’s life. Moreover, to be ‘exalted’ is to be pulled away from the power of death.

[4] Ibid., 390. This early confession of faith originated in the Church of Jerusalem. Paul would likely have encountered it in Antioch around 40 or 42 A.D. Pagola adds that the ‘third day’ language used in this formula describes the ‘decisive’ day of salvation. God saves and liberates on the third day; thus, Jesus was raised on the third day.

[5] Ibid., 391-94.

[6] Ibid., 394-402.

[7] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Sections 218-25. See also, M. Ivens, Understanding the Spiritual Exercises, (Herefordshire: Gracewing and Surrey: Inigo Enterprises, 1998), 164-65, ref. 6. Ivens states Ignatius is following an ancient tradition that emphasized Mary’s presence in the salvific process brought about by the Incarnation. There is no biblical basis for this assertion.

[8] J. Sobrino, Christ the Liberator, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 12-14.

[9] J.I. Gonzalez Faus, Adiestrar la Libertad, (Santander, Spain: Sal Terrae, 2007), 111-115.

[10] M.E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 443-44. The women went to the tomb to wash and anoint Jesus’ body that had been hastily buried (15:42-47) and likely also to achieve some closure to their relationship with him. Since the two Mary’s had already witnessed the stone being rolled over the tomb (15:46-47), waiting until they approach the tomb to ask who would remove the stone makes little sense. Boring believes the statement is offered for the benefit of the reader who is challenged to “see” that the stone, a barrier between God and humanity, has been rolled away for all time. The women who came to anoint a dead body will only partially recover their sight in this scene. Whether they (and the reader) move beyond semi-blindness to true belief and discipleship with the risen Christ must occur beyond this scene. See 8:22-26 for a faith where a man recovers his sight and sees everything clearly. See also, FJ Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 342-44.

[11] Ibid., 444-48. Upon entering the tomb, the women do not find a body. They encounter a young man wearing a white gown, a literary technique to describe an angelic figure. He is seated on the right, an appropriate placement for a divine representative. He announces the Easter message that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified has been raised. He is no longer to be found in the tomb. Mark also makes clear the post-resurrection gospel cannot be preached without taking into account the crucified Jesus of history. For this reason, he avoids any post-resurrection titles of Jesus (i.e., the Risen One, the Christ and Son of God, the Son of Man). The angel tells the women that the disciples will see Jesus in Galilee. It is not only the place where they first encountered him, it is also a symbolic expression of the land of the Gentiles. It will call them beyond the temple in Jerusalem and into a Gentile world (11:17; 13:10; 14:9). See also, Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, 344-48.

[12] Ibid., 448-49. Jesus’ male disciples had fled from him at the time of his arrest. Now, the women flee from the tomb in fear at what they have seen and heard. Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, no one has carried Jesus’ salvific message and mission. Now, Mark challenges the reader, who has had a privileged view of Jesus’ ministry as an observer, to decide how she/he will respond to the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1) See also, Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, 348-52.

[13] Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 403-07.

[14] Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 448.

[15] Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, 351. The early Christian tradition, as seen in the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, indicates the women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. Mark has intentionally changed this perspective to have the women also abandon Jesus. He ultimately places the initiative entirely with God. That is, while human beings have failed Jesus, God does not. What Jesus promised about his passion and death has come to pass (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Now, concerning the promise of his reunion with his disciples in Galilee, the reader has every reason to believe that it has occurred (14:28 and 16:7), even if it is not described in this first ending to the gospel. This was certainly the belief of Mark’s community and the reason it committed to following Jesus in discipleship.