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The Messianic Secret

When Jesus continues to do what He was sent to do – preach the Kingdom of God – He inevitably performs great wonders and signs, and continues to tell people to keep it all on the down-low. In the Gospel of St. Mark, this is all part of the "Messianic Secret."

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:6-10

Second Reading: Letter of St. James 2:1-5

Gospel: According to St. Mark 7:31-37

Sometimes Jesus does things that make me want to laugh.

This Sunday’s reading from St. Mark recounts one such time in the telling of the story of the healing of the deaf man who had a speech impediment.

One of the great themes of the writing of St. Mark is what is known as the “Messianic Secret.”  Jesus was fully aware of what image the word “Messiah” would conjure up in peoples’ minds – a great political, military, and religious leader all wrapped into one; a King David on steroids.  Jesus came to be a servant-king; a sacrificial lamb; a companion of the meek, the downtrodden, and the forgotten.  Because of the concern that He not be mistaken for a political savior, there is the prevalence of the “Messianic Secret” throughout St. Mark’s writings.

More directly related to this weekend’s Gospel story was the fear that those who were witnesses to His miracles would see Him as God’s magician.  A man who performs miracles will definitely draw crowds and a lot of publicity.  People will talk. Discussions, arguments, will revolve around whether or not this wonderworker is a charlatan or the real deal.  Attention will be drawn away from the Message of the Messenger and placed on the side show that the ministry of Jesus would become.

Isn’t that the point of the temptation when Satan tells Jesus to throw Himself off of the pinnacle of the Temple so that angels will catch Him?  Be a showman, draw the crowds, make it all about You and not about the Father Who sent You.  The big stage, the bright lights, the cover of People magazine – who today, in our world of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity, only publicity” could walk away from that?

So when Jesus continues to do what He was sent to do – preach the Kingdom of God – He inevitably performs great wonders and signs, and continues to tell people to keep it all on the down-low.

In and of itself this has some comedic value.  Human nature leads us to want to tell what we are told we cannot.  How many people can really keep a secret?  Imagine being witness to a miracle of Jesus and then not being able to tell it to anyone.  Isn’t being “in the know” and being able to let people know it an almost universal desire?

Now place this within the context of this Sunday’s miracle story.  Jesus enables a man to hear, and to be able to speak without his previous impediment.

“He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then He looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.”

Imagine being that man.  Up until this moment every time he spoke he did so only with difficulty and was not necessarily treated with charity because of it.  Certainly he thought, “Finally I can speak and do so with pride and confidence!” And what would be the first words that would almost forcibly come from his mouth?  “I was healed by Jesus and Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised One, the One of Whom I must sing – just as Isaiah foretold so many generations ago!”

“He ordered them not to tell anyone.”

It’s like the old line about being a parent: all you want your infants to do is learn how to walk and talk, and then all you end up telling them is to sit down and be quiet.

Jesus gives this man the ability to speak and then tells him to keep quiet about the one thing in the world that he not only wants to say, but wants to shout from the rooftops.  Despite giving this unequivocal restriction, Jesus certainly must know what will happen.

“But the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

Of course they did.  Who could keep quiet under such circumstances? They were virtually compelled to proclaim the Good News – just as Isaiah did:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

Today there is no more need for the Messianic Secret: the world-changing event of Easter Sunday has forever lifted the gag-order.  But there is a desperate need for all of the baptized – and most especially the Church’s hierarchy – to witness in word and deed to Jesus and to the Kingdom of God that He both proclaimed and embodied.  As He touches the hearts, minds and lips of every member of His Church Jesus again – and with unbounded urgency - implores, “Ephphatha! Be opened!”


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