Today’s gospel reading (Mark 1:29-45) offers an excellent example of what scholars of Mark’s gospel have described as the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus heals both Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and a whole town’s worth of sick and demon-possessed individuals. But rather than allowing this demonstration of God’s power to be a promotional platform for public popularity, “he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was” (verse 34). Jesus goes away to a solitary place to pray, and when his disciples find him they tell say, “Everyone is looking for you.” But rather than basking in the adulation of the crowd, Jesus replies, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (verse 38). Jesus heals a man with leprosy. But rather than encouraging him to share the good news about God’s healing power, he warns the man, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone” (verse 43).
Why would Jesus — who came to announce the dawn of God’s kingdom (see Mark 1:15) — take such great pains to keep that kingdom under wraps? Well, if you listen to the scholars who study such things, it’s because Jesus understood our propensity to “twist” the kingdom into something it’s not. We are eager, you see, to embrace a kingdom that’s all about our healing and our happiness. But the kingdom that Jesus both embodies and makes available to us calls us “to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). In His kingdom, the greatest power is sacrificial love (see John 15:13). And that’s why, in Mark’s gospel, it’s not until Jesus has given His life on the cross that the “Secret” is finally revealed, when a Roman centurion declares, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
Many of us who claim the name of Jesus have been told of our commission to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19); and that, indeed, is what we are called to do. We have a responsibility (and opportunity) to announce the Messiah’s reign. But perhaps that announcement is best made not with proud claims and strident voices, but with the “secret” witness of humble and serving love.
May we be among those whose lives reveal the Secret Messiah, who everyone needs to know.