“As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9)
Mark is the only writer of the Synoptic gospels that weaves the mysterious theme we hear today in which Jesus charges His disciples to keep His identity a secret. Mark makes us aware that Jesus understood the mounting opposition against Him and His need to be in control of the events that were to unfold at the end of His life. All four evangelists record that Christ believed He was commissioned by God and acted with His authority. Yet, it is only in the Gospel of Mark that we encounter this unusual language instructing His closest followers not to reveal His divine identity. This desire to withhold that Jesus was the Messiah from the larger population is known as the “Messianic Secret.”
William Wrede first used the term “Messianic Secret” during the late 1800’s in his attempt to explain that Jesus was not understood to be the Messiah during His lifetime. Wrede theorizes that in those instances where Mark recounts Jesus telling others not to reveal the secret of His Messiahship (Mk 7:36, Mk 8:30, Mk 9:9), he does so to explain that it took the Resurrection for people to realize fully that Jesus was the Messiah. This technique works nicely to defer the mounting tension between the mission and purpose that Jesus came to fulfill as He revealed it and that expectation of the Messiah which existed in the minds of the people.
Jesus avoided any claim on the title of Messiah for fear that it would trigger the notion of political kingship. The Jewish people expected just such a Messiah who would lead them in revolution against their Roman occupiers. But that was not the role Jesus intended to fill.
We know that Jesus had a different kingship in mind, one that would introduce the “reign of God”, one that would be better understood after he had risen from the dead. Then, Jesus’ true identity would be revealed throughout the world and throughout the ages. But until that time, he told them, “not to relate what they had seen…”
In some obscure way the obtuseness of the "Messianic Secret" is a great equalizer in portraying even those who witnessed the ministry and work of Jesus as having no particular advantage to having been there. Some like Thomas stood side by side with Jesus through it all and yet he needed the reassurance of putting his hands into the very wounds that Jesus suffered. Other, like the Centurion, believed once they witnessed the crucifixion. That the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, is the central focal point of Christianity is without question. The debate over whether Mark developed the "Messianic Secret" to ease the tension of the early Christian community that saw Christ as the Messiah amidst a hierarchical Jewish establishment that failed to do so has been the subject of debate for many years. But in a more profound way, the secrecy that Mark records in his gospel narrative provides the veil into the life and times of Jesus that we all experience until we, perhaps like Thomas, through the gift of faith, are able to proclaim with certainty, “My Lord and My God”.
Enjoy the day!
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