The Rev. Hannah Hooker preaches Epiphany 5B. Apologies for microphone issues – manuscript attached!
Photo: Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law by John Bridges, 1818-1854
As ever, I’m excited this morning to have the opportunity to preach on Mark’s gospel. And even better, today’s passage touches on one of the most exciting parts of Mark’s particular story: the Messianic Secret. It’s present in other gospels, but it really shines in Mark. I’m talking about Jesus’ habit of keeping his true identity hidden from the masses. Usually, we hear it in phrases like “and he ordered them to tell no one what they had seen.” But this morning, the secret is a little more nuanced. Today, Mark tells us that Jesus silenced the demons because they knew him. And then, Jesus physically retreats to a hiding place to pray.
Why on earth would Jesus, who has come to earth to save everyone and show us a new way to live want to keep his identity hidden? Scholars and every day readers alike have wondered and studied and theorized about this since it was first written. Some say it was Mark the evangelist who included these passages as a literary device, to create suspense in the narrative. You see, Mark’s gospel follows the pattern of the typical ancient biography, which included fantastic deeds, heroic qualities, and suspense. Others think the purpose is theological, that Mark, or Jesus himself, or both, were trying to “deconstruct” the traditional expectation of a glorious Messiah. And then there’s a clue in the 9th chapter of Mark, when Jesus tells the disciples to tell no one what they’d seen, “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” So some have thought that Jesus had very particular plan regarding revealing his true self, and he didn’t want anything happening out of order.
I could go on all day talking about biblical theories because these questions fascinate me. But this week in particular, I doubt I’m alone in wondering, isn’t the whole concept of a Messianic Secret antithetical to our Epiphany theme of revelation? Isn’t the whole point of this season to celebrate how we know who God is through Christ? Why would our lectionary give us this passage this week?
Let’s revisit our passage. Jesus has been traveling around Galilee, meeting and visiting with friends and family of his disciples. He stops in to see Simon’s family (Simon who will become Peter), and Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. Jesus heals her, and the next thing you know, the paparazzi are knocking down the front door along with everyone else in the neighborhood who thinks maybe they can get something from Jesus, too. Is it me or is our Gospel passage starting to sound like Elizabeth Taylor’s memoir? That kind of fame is not the kingdom Christ is here to usher in.
Now speaking of famous people, many of you know that I happen to love celebrities, and between you and me, I’m an avid reader of People Magazine. I won’t ask anyone else to own up to it, but I think we all know I’m not the only one in the room. So we know that just because I read an interview or watch a movie or listen to a song or hear my friends talking about a celebrity, that doesn’t mean I know him or her. I may have learned something about that is important to me, but I don’t have a relationship with that celebrity. We might call it an incomplete revelation.
I can’t say for sure the purpose behind Mark’s messianic secret, but we can certainly understand why Christ would want to direct us away from this disconnected aspect of his fame, this incomplete revelation. Lining up to come to church to see if we can get Jesus to work a miracle at our beck and call won’t get us any closer to revelation and relationship with Christ than it did for the crowds that Jesus hid from in our gospel passage. Understanding and coming to know Christ is a two-way street. We have to be open to how Christ will change our lives and not approach a relationship with him with an agenda,
And on the other side of that street, Christ meets us where we are, which can be in a million different places, but it’s always personal. A very special 4 year old who comes to chapel with me every Wednesday always wants to pray about the characters on his TV shows, that he is thankful for them and he hopes they make the right choices. This past Wednesday, when he asked once again if we could pray about these characters weighing heavy on his heart, I told him of course, because that’s where he sees the lessons I teach in chapel played out, for him, at age 4, that’s one of the places Christ meets him. One of the places God has often met me is in books. As a child, and even today, I learn almost as much about the world and the people in it and how God is at work here through novels as I do through personal interactions. If Emma were here, she would tell you that God meets her in nature. She feels moved by the Spirit and has a fuller understanding of God’s love when she is deep in the woods. Christ can meet us almost anywhere, but I’m confident it won’t be mere hearsay, God won’t stop there, and it won’t be through a miracle that we demand.
This morning Christ is asking us not to be like the demons in this story, spreading that horrid gossip, telling people that if only they’ll come to church and see things our way, all their problems will go away. Today’s Epiphany message is about how we invite people into revelation. How do we tell people about what Christ has done for us? How do we contribute to a more complete revelation in Epiphany?
As Epiphany draws to a close and we begin to prepare our hearts and minds for Lent, what a perfect opportunity to tell others what we’re up to, why we are fasting, why we have ashes on our foreheads. As ever, the Holy Spirit knew what to do with our lectionary after all. We have been invited into revelation, to this very special part of being the Body of Christ. Let’s rise to the task.