My apologies for the delay in posting this introduction to the second half of Mark! Hope you're reading along anyway….
Augustine considered Mark to be a "digest" of Matthew – nowadays most scholars think of it as the skeleton on which Matthew and Luke constructed their gospels. Either way, reading it after Matthew focuses our attention on what Mark considers sufficiently important to include. The Passion story emerges as the axis around which everything else turns – even the Resurrection! Mark has an empty tomb, and then controversy about whether either of the "endings" found in some early versions should be considered to be authentic. Without the longer ending, we have no resurrection appearances at all (and we probably wouldn't have any snake-handling in some of those out-there churches either). Since no scholarly consensus exists, Bibles today include all three options: ending with the first half of 16:8; adding the shorter ending; or adding the longer ending (with or without the shorter ending, to confuse things further...). Both the shorter and longer endings sound to me like a change of tone; what do you think?
Since Mark only has four parables in all, and only one in this latter half, it seems incumbent upon us to pay particular attention to the one he has chosen to accompany his focus on the Passion. The parable of the wicked tenants (12:1-12) provokes the Jewish leadership to desire to arrest Jesus. Jesus has by now predicted his suffering and death both obliquely and directly; speaking this parable to that leadership makes the prediction even more powerful. (Remember that any reference to vines, vineyards, grapes, and wine is a reference to the people of Israel.) As we finish Mark, then, we should be asking ourselves: what does the death of Jesus Christ signify to the people of his time and to us? How does the cross, the instrument of that death, become such a symbol of hope for us? Reminding ourselves of the fundamental importance of believing that Jesus is God incarnate, suffering as we suffer and dying as we die to promise us God's love, seems a good way to conclude our reading of the second gospel.