In the Gospels there is a recurring theme of Jesus healing someone, Jesus telling the person to keep quiet about it, and the person running about blabbing anyway (can you blame them?). I’d like to draw your attention to a particular case of this in the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.Mark 8:22-26 NRSV
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus sternly orders his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. I’ve often wondered about that. Why all the secrecy? I think it has to do with the type of Messiah Jesus knew himself to be.
In the years leading up to and following Jesus’ public ministry there were numerous wannabe messiahs. These pretenders were said to perform miracles; they had significant followings; but must importantly, they were rebels. They encouraged rebellion against the Roman occupiers of Israel. They were Zealots.
They also almost universally originated from Galilee. If Jesus, a Galilean, had allowed his disciples to run around blabbing that Jesus was the Messiah, he would have been lumped with a long line of failed claimants to that title, but importantly, he would have been associated with movements of armed rebellion. The crowds who gathered to him would be gathering for the wrong reasons. Their ideas of kingdom would not match that of Jesus, who knew the vocation of Messiah was about radical love and sacrifice. Critically, it wasn’t armed rebellion and insurrection that would be the mark of the Messiah – it would be the cross. This is probably why the author of Mark’s Gospel has the Roman centurion point this out at Jesus’ death:
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”Mark 15:37-39 NRSV
I think the author of Mark’s Gospel was trying to demonstrate to his readers that this act – Jesus’ death on the cross – was the identifying marker of the Messiah. The Roman centurion was symbolic of the military occupier realizing, not through force of arms, but by the cross, that Jesus is the Messiah.
Even to the end Jesus’ disciples struggled to see this important distinction – the difference between their preconceived notions and God’s modus operandi: radical love.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.Luke 22:47-51 NRSV
It is the hand reaching out to heal a wound, rather than the use of a drawn sword, that is the image of God. This seems profound to me. How often do our preconceived notions blind us to the work of God? How quick are we to draw metaphorical swords upon one another, injuring each other in a cause we perceive to be just, when God would have us heal instead?