Saturday, February 7, 2009

Messianic Secret – A Catholic Brief Study

Mark 8:30 “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

There has been a popular revival recently of Christ’s often professed forbidding of anyone broadcasting his Messiahship, no doubt due to the Feb 1st Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28). This subject is true enigmatic material, and fairly deep exegetical water making it worthy study. It is so magnetic, even Pope Benedict has published a take on the secret this month as well. A few other Catholic Blogs have posted about this and repeated the Pope’s reflection, I won’t reiterate that…I’d like to share the richness of truth to be found and studied in His professed restriction.

Late 19th and early 20th Century study yielded scholarly debate about Jesus’ full, but unspoken motive for this restriction. In particular, William (aka Wilhelm) Wrede published a fairly distracted viewpoint that fell into questioning the historicity level of Mark altogether. Wrede’s trajectory, digressing into a broadform History detour, drew majority angst from like Bibliophiles and by reaction, a dozen or so more opinions from Scholars assailed at Wrede’s work, as if the Inquisition began again suddenly.

While the Historical/Critical debate is a valid one, it loses the teaching in which I grasp a much richer lesson in Christ’s keeping his activity on the “down-low”. Using reason, I hear Jesus’ has much to say with little spoken in this avoidance of becoming a prominent figure by miracle witness word-of-mouth. But let’s take a few other viewpoints and ponder them: (Bart D. Ehrman from Wiki)

1. Literary explanations: a prominent example is proposed by the Exegetic School of Madrid (2007). The conclusion of the philological study is that the messianic secret, more than a theology by the first Church or by Mark, is an invention of modern writers. In fact, in the original Aramaic version Jesus never pronounced those sentences… However, there is no extant copy of this alleged Aramaic original to support this theory.

Nope…the words are there ESM. To say that they are not, while historical forensics reconciled nearly all translations to the contrary is a failure of research and majority of findings.

2. Historical: One possible historical explanation might be that Jesus wished to fulfill the envisaged role of the Jewish messiah only selectively: although he was the 'anointed one', or Christ, he did not appear as a military leader.

No real meat on the “why” in this one although the second half has traction, it should be explored further.

3. Historical: A) It is also reasonable to believe that Christ might want to suppress public fervor about himself until the opportune time.
B) According to the Gospel, he was already a celebrity in Palestine. He might want to retain some measure of anonymity in order to be able to move about Judea without a multitude of followers.

While 3A appears supported by even Christ himself, (speaking to his Mother in the context of performing a miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana…[John 2: 3-5] "O woman, what is it, to you in me? My time has not yet come.") Christ then reveals publicly his Messiahship, doing the exact opposite of keeping secret his Divinity. But, we are going after the “why” for his profession of secrecy, and “the opportune time” falls short of satisfying this inquiry.

3B however follows reason and even as it is vague, this becomes a significant perspective trail to pursue.

Look at the result of Christ’s admonitions to keep quiet those he healed or touched. They all ran off screaming his abilities using whatever lofty moniker for Him to everyone in earshot.

Can you imagine, God says to you: “Jack, the cancer is gone now, and just so you know, I am God so shut up about it.” (sternly). People are healed from terminal or disabling disease, they cannot stop themselves from broadcasting that fact. Is it reasonable to think they will allow the shut up part to trump the primary victory of being healed? The legal gravity of a Gag Order was not understood back then. So when they attest to their being healed they use any word to describe the healer. They most likely were in such a state of Euphoria that when asked “who did this for you?”, any High Title was sufficient…King, Lord, Master, Prophet, etc. Christ did not say “well, if you have to tell, use only the term ‘Son of Man’”…because he likely knew the person would be so overcome with their purified state, the source character label is of little concern to them.

This also aligns well with the Catholic understanding of “both and” refuting those who believe in the “elect” theory of some Protestant denoms. [We understand that God chooses All, and we are free to choose God or not. No predestination or double predestination. Its both and.] Per Mark: “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” Yet there is no Biblical citation of Him doing anything about violating his order. Check it – He gave Himself to them, and instructed them on its visibility, yet they chose to violate it. The healings were not reversed or retracted as a result of our choosing as well. See the richness in this repeated example of accepting His Mercy and still failing to abide?

The preeminent motive deduction for secrecy is a combination of those that are supported through reason above and applying the reality of Christ’s teaching. Abp. Fulton Sheen explains it precisely and summarily:

"Our Blessed Lord saw thousands passing in the Passover Caravan on their way to Jerusalem. And his heart goes out to them…he proposes to feed them. Andrew the Apostle pointed to a boy who had 5 barley loaves and 2 fishes. These our Blessed Lord took. Notice the way the Gospel describes what our Lord did and notice also the parallel between this description and the last supper. We are quoting the Gospel of Mark 6:41:
“And he took up the 5 loaves and 2 fishes and looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave to His disciples.” With these 5 loaves and 2 fishes our Blessed Lord fed the multitude of thousands….it was indeed a miracle of multiplication…until, the Gospel says, everyone had his fill. Do you suppose that if our Blessed Lord gave out Money instead of Bread, the Gospel would have said… that everyone had his fill?

The effect of this miracle was stupendous, because they saw the bread and fishes increasing. And the people saw the possibility of making our Lord a King that would bring prosperity and plenty. So they sought to make Him King. That’s what people want, Economic Prosperity. Even from God that walks this Earth. The people now wanted to make our Lord King…an economic political King that would fill their gullets and their stomachs, and if he did that He would have Power according to them. And our Lord knowing they wished to make Him King, fled into the mountains alone.

They could not make Him King,
He was born a King.

It could very well have been that this flight from political kingship produced the disillusion in Judas, as he witnessed the flight and could not bear the thought of not being provided for economically by Christ. (Quoting from John 6:25 on) The next morning he is found at Capernaum and asked how he got there. His answer was to reprimand them as they were identifying Religion with Soup Kitchens. And He said
“Believe me, if you are looking for me now it is not because of the miracles you have seen, it is because you are fed with loaves and had your fill.”
By these words our Lord indicated that they had not taken the miracle as a sign of his Divinity. They were looking for him instead of to him. Our Lord continues in John 6:27:
“You should not work to earn food which parishes in the using, work to earn food which affords continually eternal life. Such food as the Son of Man will give you. God the Father has authorized him.”

Our Lord is here setting in contrast 2 kinds of bread, the bread that parishes, and the bread that endures to life everlasting. And He cautioned them against following Him as a donkey following a Master who holds a carrot. To lift their carnal minds to eternal food. He suggested that they seek the food that the Heavenly Father had sealed or authorized."(Abp)

The Consecrated Eucharist has this Seal does it not?

Christ knew his Ministry would be hindered by the forcing of a Kingship of earthly values. The Secrecy was His teaching of lifting the Carnal Mind to the Eternal Mind, which is not of this Economic and Political World.


R. E. Aguirre. said...

Excellent summary of this issue CJ. For those who want a deeper read into rebuttals of those such as Wrede, Bultmann, et al who would argue that Mark made up this so-called Messianic secret to get Jesus off the "hook", cf. H. Raisanen, Mark. Studies in the New Testament and its World, 1990 and G. Theissen The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition., 1991. Who show that this messianic secret was drawn from the sayings of Jesus himself not an invention of Mark.

The wisdom of our Lord is great indeed. For in his time in first century Jerusalem it was a politically explosive atmosphere and a message of an arriving kingdom would have been a veritable call to arms. Hence, His message of the nature of the Kingdom in parables was incredibly intelligent.

~Joseph the Worker said...

I think this is a good treatment. There were a few times where he seems to want to keep his identity secret but other times where he openly manifests it. I have a few thoughts, but I'd have to re-read and soak in what you wrote a little longer.

George Weis said...

This was a great post, that gave me much to chomp on my friend!

I know where to come, if I want my brain to be stretched.

Again, and excellent post!


The Catholic Journeyman said...

Thank you kind freinds. There is so much intellectual to spiritual teaching in this angle from Christ, I could write a 26 week study on it.

While some Catholics may be well beyond this epiphany, I keep seeing connections from this validating Catholic Salvation/Justification Doctrine.

Joseph, Abp. Sheen's book "Life of Christ" is one of the most insightful and straightforward expositions of how the minds comprehension of Divine vs. Human intellect can lead to spiritual renewal...constantly.

R.E.A, thanks for the reference...looking up Raisanen-Theissen now.