Messianic secret: can you keep it?

Daily Office readings for Sunday, January 19:

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)

Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)

Genesis 7:1-10,17-23

Ephesians 4:1-16

Mark 3:7-19

“But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.”

Reams and reams have been written about The Messianic Secret–the times when Jesus tells the disciples (at times, rather sternly!) not to reveal his divine nature. It’s most prevalent in the Gospel of Mark, but we see references in the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke. (Forget about seeing it in John–the Gospel of John hangs its hat on Jesus’ divinity.) Being reminded of it though, always begs the question, “Why the secrecy?”

People smarter than me have posited all sorts of theories, ranging from tension between messianic early Christians struggling with the non-Messianic nature of his ministry, to likening Jesus to Odysseus, to even a possible mistranslation. Some couch the secret in terms of keeping under the radar of the Roman Empire, others suggest the possibility that Jesus, also fully human, grew into a fullness of understanding of the significance of his own divinity.

That said, what I’ve seen in my life of the magnificent gifts of others, and what I’ve come to understand about my own attitudes about giving, have led me to think about The Messianic Secret in far less complex terms. It would not be surprising if some of all of those theories hold part of the truth. Yet, perhaps a big part of it is something as simple as what we know in our own hearts about giving anonymously and receiving an anonymous gift, coupled with the Gospel of Mark being written at a time when it was dangerous for early Christians themselves to reveal their own “messianic secrets.”

Many times, in the life of my home parish, I’ve seen it be the recipient of anonymous gifts, whether small or sizeable. First thing that happens is that people become incredibly curious on “who that is” (some people…um…rather overly so.) Is it someone in town? Someone who used to live here? Someone right among us? Someone with a past with which they’re trying to make peace? Sometimes the musings can even cross the paranoia line. (Do they want something? Is someone trying to buy our favor? Is the money stolen?)

Mostly, though, it fills the recipients with a fun electricity, simply in that grand generosity is right under our own noses. It also calls to mind that even if we can’t be that magnanimous, we can be more generous in our own ways.

In the same vein, I’ve found that, the times I want to be anonymous in my giving, it’s usually because I don’t want to separate myself from the recipients. I prefer to be their equal. I prefer it be paid forward rather than back.

Could it be that a life in Christ and salvation was the true anonymous gift Jesus left us, and that in light of that, his acts of ministry could be viewed as distractions from the real gift? In many of the healing stories, it is clear that Jesus doesn’t say, “Now that I’ve healed you, follow me.” It’s more like “Go show the priest.” “Go home to your people.” “Go and tell people what God did for you.” “Go in peace.”

In other words, it, too, is about paying things forward.

In what ways do we continue to keep The Messianic Secret through our gifts and ministries?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Past Posts