6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A person with leprosy approached Jesus, knelt down and begged, “If you are willing, you can heal me.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touch the person with leprosy and said, “I am willing. Be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy disappeared, and the person with the disease was cured.
Jesus gave a stern warning and sent the person off. “Not a word to anyone,” Jesus said. “Go off and present yourself to the priest and make an offering for your healing as Moses commanded, as a testimony to the religious authorities.” But instead the person who had been healed went off and began to proclaim the whole matter freely, making the story public. As a result it was no longer possible for Jesus to enter a town openly; so he stayed in deserted places. Even so, people kept coming to him from all directions.Homily for 16 February 2003
Rev. Jim Ryan
When we took our Parish survey, and in subsequent open discussions, we expressed a desire to do Bible Study. So, with this homily I would like to do a shortened version of a study of the Gospel of Mark. This is the Gospel we will be proclaiming this year and we are still at the beginning of it.
The Gospel of Mark is the one I recommend to anyone who would like to rekindle their faith, or even to get an adult acquaintance with Jesus, the Christ. It is the oldest and the shortest of the gospels. In 16 short chapters we have the whole story, one that is direct, to the point, and keeps Jesus constantly on the road toward his destination – Jerusalem. His single focus, as it turns out, becomes the confrontation with his own destiny – crucifixion and resurrection.
There is purpose in the way that the Gospel writer, Mark, retells the story. It is a purpose that requires us to study at greater depths and with a look at the specific details. Such a study supports the wider and deeper view of the Bible. This is not the literalist’s view – the literalist being a person who just reads the text and thinks they can immediately interpret the meaning.
No, a study of this Gospel of Mark shows some curious, if not confusing, parts and purposes to the story. For example, it doesn’t take much to read the quotes at the top of this page, put them in the context of Jesus’ very public healings where they were spoken, and ask Jesus, “What were you thinking?”
How can any clear thinking adult say to parents whose daughter has just been raised from the dead in the sight of family, friends, and the entire neighborhood, “Don’t let anyone know about this.” Something is going on here.
Scholars tell us that what is going on is the Messianic Secret. Jesus has a secret, sometimes seemingly a secret from himself, that must be carefully revealed. The secret is that he is the Messiah, the Promised One, the Savior, the Christ. But all these titles are misinterpreted by those who do not know the secret.
At the very heart of this 16 chapter Gospel, in Chapter 8, Jesus finally wants to know what people are saying. He asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am? (8:27).
Peter says, “You are the Messiah!” And Jesus, we are told, “gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.”
And here’s the theological reason, the reason Gospels need to be studied and reflected upon. The Messianic Secret is that the glorious Messiah, the triumphal Promised One, the Eternal Christ must first suffer and die before glory is realized in resurrection. This Secret complicates matters considerably.
Once Jesus started teaching this truth some who thought they knew precisely who Jesus was and what he was about left him. All their knowledge and their proclaiming openly about Jesus, probably some of those who spoke far and wide about Jesus the wonder-worker, were confronted with what they did not want to know.
Their Messiah will be ridiculed, put on public display and killed for his beliefs. This really complicates things.
Life is complicated. And when we look at the complications of life these days – with the complications of our personal lives, with the prospects of our nation starting a full-scale war without being directly attacked by the nation we propose to bomb, with family members being called into military service for reasons we wonder about – these complications make us look at this story of the Messianic Secret with a new knowledge.
We hear from people who have recently visited Baghdad that it is true that likely 500,000 more children died in Iraq in the last decade than died in the previous decade. Children deprived of medicines and other materials that prevent the spread and the deadly impact of otherwise treatable diseases. Their deaths occurred because of sanctions that seem to have only created a redistribution upward of wealth within Iraq. The rich are richer and they are a smaller group. Life is complicated.
We who believe in a Christ, a Messiah, whose glory consists in making people choose life over death – even through one’s own crucifixion – must accept the complications that exist. We ought not follow the warmaker’s path and demonize the enemy to the point that a person, a society, a child, is no longer in the land to be bombed. They are only objects to be eliminated, blips on a screen.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks. And we who read the Gospel of Mark know the answer to the Secret. You are the One who gives life, the One who refuses to turn persons into objects, the One who recognizes war in any and every case as a failure and a shame. There is no glory on that path.
When he recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, President Jimmy Carter said that one thing he knew for certain among all the complications of life. That one thing is that we do not make peace by killing each other’s children. Now there’s a secret we all know.