In our Gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark, near the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus enters a synagogue in Capernaum, and teaches the people. Mark tells us that the people are astonished, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Later on, Jesus demonstrates His authority by driving out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue. Again, the people marvel at Jesus because “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
I found myself wondering about the difference in Jesus’ teaching from that of the scribes. And it has given me some more insight to an aspect of Mark’s Gospel that we will see time and time again: The tendency for Jesus to tell people not to tell others about what He did. Scripture scholars often refer to this as the “Messianic secret.” In fact, in today’s passage, Jesus even tells the unclean spirit who identifies Him as the Messiah to keep quiet.
From the way the Pharisees and the scribes are often portrayed in the Gospels, it seems that they saw themselves as having authority over people by virtue of their positions. They were the acknowledged experts on the Law, and so they felt comfortable in telling others what to do. Jesus’ authority, on the other hand, did not come from any position He held, but from who He was. His teaching, His love for the people, came from His heart, not from some earthly status.
And when we think about it, do we not respect people as leaders who are authentic in their concern and compassion for others, whether they hold some recognized position or not? They have a kind of natural, inborn authority and we listen to what they say.
That’s the kind of authority Jesus has. And we are called to trust in His authority. We are called to trust in His power to heal us and drive away all the things that weigh us down and rob us of life, including our own sins. But our relationship with Him is to be with Him, not with what we think we can get out of Him. That, to me, is the reason for the “Messianic secret” mentioned above. Jesus knew that He would fulfill His mission as Messiah by not leading armies to throw out the Romans, but by dying for us on the Cross, and so He kept things a secret, until the people could better understand what kind of a Messiah He would be.
Very often we’re tempted to see Jesus in terms of what He can do for us rather than Him Himself, and our relationship with Him is based on that. So even while we trust in Him to have the power to heal us, we don’t make an idol of the blessings He can give us, but instead seek to come closer to Him.
May we listen to Jesus’ teachings on love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness, and be willing to have him come closer to us, and heal us.
Fr. Phil, CP