“The Messianic Secret”

by Fr. Blake

The following sermon was preached at 8am and 10am on Sunday June 28, 2015, at All Saints by-the-Sea, in Southport, Maine.

Collect: O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:

Some of you may have heard, at some point or other, that there’s a peculiar feature to the Gospel of Mark. It occurs many times throughout the course of the Gospel, and we’ve got it again today. Scholars call it, very dramatically, the “Messianic Secret.” The way it usually goes is that Jesus performs a miracle, and then promptly orders people not to tell anyone. Sometimes they listen and sometimes not. But it’s a curious phenomenon. Why is Jesus so secretive? Either he’s a master of reverse psychology as a marketing device, or he wants people to know who he is by some other means than his miracles alone.

As far as today’s Gospel goes, he’s kept the secret well enough that the major characters don’t quite seem to know who it is they’re dealing with. Jairus comes to Jesus and falls at his feet asking for his services. This is a posture reminiscent of the prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha, both of whom performed many healing miracles. The woman with the hemorrhages must think of Jesus as some kind of wizard: she treats him like a sorcerer, full of innate power, and she says to herself that if she can only touch him, then she’ll be healed. Neither one is what Jesus is really about.

Mark states at the beginning of the Gospel that his whole point as an author is to show that Jesus is the Son of God. Prophet and sorcerer are interesting variations, but they don’t quite get it right.

From my perspective here this morning, the really interesting thing to me is that Jesus doesn’t really seem to care what these people think of him. He heals the woman of her hemorrhages, and he raises Jairus’ daughter, even though they don’t quite get who he really is.

What am I getting at? That Jesus is who he is regardless of what we know or don’t know about him. He is who he is regardless of what you or I think about him. Our opinion will not change him one way or another, cannot turn him into something more or less palatable as we desire.

In this day and age we can easily get caught in the trap of thinking about Jesus as if he were any other subject for public comment or opinion. We can easily get caught up in behaving as if he were simply another brand we buy or another candidate for whom we cast a vote. We can manipulate Jesus’ legacy, we can profit from his name. We can get distracted into thinking it’s our opinion of who Jesus is that matters. But nothing we do or think or say can change him one way or the other.

Jairus and the woman in today’s Gospel learn this in a profound way. Jesus responds to their needs, but what he doesn’t do is play by the rules they set down. Jesus goes to Jairus’ house, and raises his daughter from the dead. But unlike the prophets who had accomplished similar healings, he merely takes her by the hand, and says quietly, “Little girl, get up,” and she rises from what had been her deathbed. No complicated gestures, no long process, no back and forth with his disciples or with servants or with Jairus, unlike prophets like Elijah and Elisha. Only a word, and she gets up from her bed.

Likewise with the woman: she touches him and she is healed. But she gets more than she bargained for: Jesus stops, the crowd goes still, and he wants to identify the person he has just healed. This is no anonymous trip to a witch doctor: this woman is called out in public. She is understandably afraid, but Jesus isn’t angry. He calls her “Daughter” (even though it’s likely that she is much older than him) and tells her that her faith has made her well. Not the power of his robe, or any kind of magic, but faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus refuses the labels and expectations and opinions of even the people he heals. He is not Jairus’ prophet, he has no time for complicated intercessions or ceremonies of court. He is not the woman’s sorcerer, he is not interested in anonymous displays of power. Instead, by his manner in both of these scenarios, Jesus insists on relating directly with each of the people he heals, speaking to them in friendly, familiar terms, even giving his hand to help the little girl to get up. He is not bothered by the wrong ideas people have of him, but neither does he play by the rules they set up. He is playing his own game, working to fulfill his own mission. And whatever Jairus, or his daughter, or the woman with the hemorrhages thought of him — no matter what you or I might think of him — He is going to do it his way and in his time.

What do we learn from these episodes, about who Jesus is and what his mission is? For starters, the woman with the hemorrhages grasps furtively for Jesus in the midst of the crowd much as Eve might have grasped for the fruit in the midst of the Garden. But this woman is not after forbidden fruit, rather the wholeness she has spent 12 years seeking. Jesus calls her Daughter, and reverses the Garden’s drama from estrangement and mortality to restoration and healing. The servants laugh at Jesus for saying the little girl is only sleeping. But this comment foreshadows what he is about to accomplish by his own resurrection from the dead: transforming death itself from a shadowy abyss into the gate of Paradise.

Yes, Jesus is who he is no matter what we might think of him, no matter how we might treat him. He will accomplish his purposes regardless of whatever distractions we create or sins we commit. You and I might be better served if we stop trying so hard to figure out what Jesus is really about, what he means for each of us or for the world — and instead ask ourselves who are we to Jesus? How do we fit into his plan, and what is his purpose for us? If we search the Scriptures we will see that at every turn Jesus is less interested in people being right about who he is, and more interested in treating them as objects of love, the people he came to forgive and to restore.

All I have to offer by way of conclusion or commission is to suggest that you and I spend some time this week practicing. Offer to Jesus your heart, your whole self, just as it is. He made you, and he knows where you are most in need of healing and forgiveness. Let him do with you what he came to do, let him show you the way “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” You might be surprised. Your opinion of who he is might change. Or it might not. But if you let him be who he is, figuring out the “Messianic Secret” will no longer matter, and you will find yourself forgiven, healed, loved without condition or reserve, a member of the household of God.