Friday, February 3, 2012

Jesus' Big Secret

As we continue our journey through Jesus' first days in the Gospel of Mark, our texts for this week are Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, and Mark 1:29-39. Each of these passages can be found here.

True confession time: when I am out and about in social situations, I often try to keep what I do for a living a secret as long as possible. It's not that I'm ashamed of being a past0r--I love what I do! It's just that, as soon as I tell someone I'm a pastor, I know what is going to happen:

1) They will assume I will be/behave like pastors they have known before; they'll say, "I thought women couldn't be pastors...or someone as young as you couldn't be a pastor" and look at me like I must be mistaken or joking about my identity.

2) They will apologize for the off-color word they just said or the fermented beverage in their hand or the fact that they "haven't been to church in a while", assuming I will judge them for these things because they've had Christians--especially Christian leaders--judge them for this in the past.

3) They will assume I have some sort of added holy powers or answers to great cosmic questions that I don't.

When I reveal that I'm a pastor, people begin to assume things, and their assumptions about me will outweigh and overshadow their ability to hear what I actually am like and have to say.

This makes me have compassion for Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus constantly tries to keep his identity a secret from the crowds. This has been called Jesus' "Messianic Secret": whenever someone realizes who Jesus is in Mark's Gospel, he immediately urges them not to tell anyone.

The first clear instance of Jesus' secret shows up in this week's Gospel: "And he...cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him" (Mark 1:38). This odd theme resounds again and again through Jesus' earthly life:

  • "Don’t tell this to anyone," Jesus tells the leper he cleanses (Mark 1:44)
  • "He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this" to the synagogue leader whose daughter he raised (Mark 5:43).
  • When Peter finally got Jesus' identity right, "Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him" (Mark 8:30).
  • After the transfiguration revealed more of who Jesus is, "Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9).

Why all the secrecy? If Jesus is the one they've been waiting for, why not shout it from the rooftops?

There have been many theories about this "messianic secret": maybe Jesus was just showing humility. Maybe it was some sort of reverse psychology: if you tell someone "don't tell," aren't they more likely to spill the beans?

Yet the theory I like best is this: Jesus didn't want to be held captive to their assumptions about what a "Messiah" should be. Jesus did not want to be seen as some sort of celebrity miracle worker, or someone who was going to mount up the troops and finally lead a military rebellion against Rome; perhaps he did not want these expectations foisted upon them. Rather, he needed who he was--who he had come to be--to unfold...unfold all the way to a most unlikely Messianic ending. As Scott Hoezee aptly observed this week, "Jesus knew that for him to accomplish the work he came to do, he could not let people too quickly seize on him lest they turn him into what they wanted him to be as opposed to what he knew his Father would have him to be (and for that to happen, he’d have to trek all the way to the cross)."

It all makes me what ways do we try to "seize on" Jesus and try to turn him into what we want him to be rather than what his call is to be? In what ways is Jesus' true identity still a secret to us...and how might we come to discover it first hand?

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Eh, you're "just" Abby to me! You're right, though - I've had some friends remark, upon meeting you or our former interim pastor, Stephen, and hearing that they were/are pastors: "But, they seem so normal." Indeed.

Though, that one time (err...dozens of times) you made Maryland lose to Duke with your powers was pretty impressive. Kudos. And knock it off.

Also, I immediately thought of this clip:

That's enough irreverence for today, I think. Sorry!