Sunday, February 15, 2009

Messianic secret or Messianic brilliance?


Our gospel passage today from Mark is one of the many remarkable stories of the miraculous healings that we see Jesus perform over and over again. Jesus is moved with pity in this encounter with a man suffering from leprosy, merely touches him and he is miraculously healed.

But there is something curious in this passage that you may have noticed, and it is a feature that is unique to Mark’s Gospel, frequently in scenes where Jesus performs a miracle.

Here it is, “He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything,’” Over and over again in Mark’s Gospel we see this same pattern. Jesus performs a great miracle and each time leaves the people who witnessed or experienced this divine action to keep it a secret. This pattern has been called by Bible Scholars the Messianic Secret. And, even though these scholars have given this pattern a clever name, they are somewhat baffled when trying to come up with a reason for it. Why does Jesus perform these miracles only to then ask everyone to keep it a secret? We’re not really sure.

But, there are a few theories. One theory holds that perhaps Jesus didn’t feel the time had come to make a public display of the power given him by the Father. Although ready to heal, He wasn’t ready to go public. Another theory speculates that Jesus was concerned that His miracles might be misunderstood as magic or tricks, rather than manifestations of God's love. Yet another theory speculates that perhaps Jesus was concerned that people would focus on the miracles and miss the important message of God's love and forgiveness that went with them. Miracles are meant to support the message of God’s Kingdom, not to overshadow it.

Personally, I have my own theory of the Messianic Secret. Let’s look at the passage again. We heard, “He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything,’” But, then look at what comes immediately after this command to keep quiet, “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” Jesus gives this command to silence, and the immediate reaction is to run to the mountain tops and proclaim what Jesus has done.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my experience there is one sure-fire way to get the word out about something. Go to one person, give them all the details and then say, “This is a secret. Don’t tell anyone.” By nightfall, it will have spread far and wide. In our Franciscan community we even have a saying for this clandestine communication network. We say, “Telephone, telegraph or tell-a-friar!” Jesus knows we just can’t keep a secret.

So, my own personal theory of the Messianic Secret is that this is the ingenious way that Jesus helps to accomplish His goal of proclaiming the news of the Kingdom in an age long before newspapers, television and the internet.

But perhaps even more than this, I think is the realization that sometimes things are just too incredible to be contained. That no matter how much or how strongly we are told to keep things quiet, there are some things that simply must be proclaimed from the roof tops. The bottom line is that people like the man in our story had such a profound experience of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s power that it was literally impossible to keep it quiet. Imagine this man, if you will. He has lived probably for years with leprosy; a disease that is impossible to hide. People would have noticed the disfiguration of his skin. Suddenly, all of that is gone. Surely they are going to ask, “What happened to you?” And it would be impossible for this man to say, “Nothing.” Or, “I can’t really talk about it.” Of course, he is going to “publicize the whole matter” as Mark tells us.

God’s goodness is too awesome, too powerful, too overwhelming to keep to ourselves. And, I think this is the way it is supposed to be. God wants the same reaction from us as we see from this man healed by Jesus. This requires two things of us – first, an openness to be witnesses to God’s goodness to ourselves and those around us. Sometimes we would rather name something as random or a coincidence, or never take the time to count our blessings. Secondly, we need the courage to proclaim that goodness. When was the last time you shared with another person God’s goodness to you?

Our challenge is to continue seeing the marvelous things Jesus does for us every day, and acknowledge the salvation He has won for us. There is no reason to keep the joy to ourselves. In fact, Jesus encourages us to share it with all we meet. Let us each commit to finding at least one person today to whom we can tell about a wonder Jesus has performed in our lives.

God has worked miracles in our midst. But, shhh, it’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.

May God give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. My theory too.

    ...and I do, problem is...they're not listening.