In last Sunday’s Mass we heard the Gospel story of Jesus cleansing the leper (Mark 1:40-45).
“A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him , and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”
Jesus tells the man to keep his cleansing quiet. And he doesn’t simply request this, he warns him sternly. We see this in a number of passages regarding healings. In Mark 7:36 Jesus orders that crowd not to tell anyone of the healing of a deaf man; “But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” In Matthew 9:27-31 Jesus heals two blind men and warns them sternly to tell no one, but again they spread the word everywhere. In Luke 8:49-56 Jesus brings Jairus’s daughter back to life and instructs her parents to tell no one of what happened. These instructions can seem contrary to the work of evangelization and spreading the good news of Christ. I have often wondered, why would Jesus want to keep his healings a secret?
I think the reason behind the secrecy can be seen if we imagine these healings in our present day. The paparazzi seems to catch every person with even an ounce of fame. The good and the bad, they plaster photographs and stories across magazines, television shows, internet stories, etc. Things that may be controversial get even more media attention. And the stories are almost always blown way out of proportion. Maybe the initial photographer was simply reporting a couple getting married, but the story will quickly turn to the bride’s demands, possible pregnancy, adulterous scandals, anything and everything, true or not, will become associated with the new couple. Can you imagine what they would do with a story of the Messiah healing people?
The people who were healed by Jesus didn’t mean to ruin him by spreading the word of their healings. They were simply overcome with joy at what the Lord had done and just had to tell someone! I’m sure they heard Jesus’s warning to keep it a secret, but in their excitement they may have forgotten or figured that people will find out sooner or later anyway. By spreading their news, crowds began to gather so that Jesus couldn’t even enter a town! The stories probably grew out of control, and not all for good. As Jesus’s fame grew, so did his “paparazzi.” And while more people grew to learn of Jesus and came to know him as the Messiah, people began to grow in doubt too. Herod heard about what was happening. The rumors that reached him were that perhaps John had been raised from the dead after Herod had him beheaded. Or maybe Elijah had appeared (Luke 9:7-9). Herod was determined to find out what the truth was behind these rumors. And the more the news of Jesus spread, the easier it would be for Herod to find him. Later, the chief priests and elders began to question Jesus’s authority (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-32, Luke 20:1-8). They simply couldn’t believe the stories they were hearing and were determined to find Jesus guilty of something.
I think Jesus knew that their hearts would be hardened. That they would not all be willing to accept all the he had to offer them. And Jesus knew that before his time on earth was over, he had things to do, a mission to accomplish. So by telling those he healed to keep their healings a secret, I believe he was simply seeking to carry out his work without the paparazzi following his every move. Perhaps his stern warnings were a warning of what would happen if the stories spun out of control. If authorities questioned him, and heard rumors they did not like, and sought to kill him.
Jesus is kind and loving, filled with compassion and moved with pity for those who were suffering. He wanted to heal people, in body and more importantly in spirit. He wanted to cleanse people, not only of their bodily afflictions but of their sins. He wanted people to believe in him. But he knew that the paparazzi of his day would not allow these miraculous stories to be told as the truth and to be shared in love. For this purpose, I believe he sought to keep his miraculous healings a secret from these paparazzi in order to carry out his work here on earth, all he while knowing that the news eventually would be spread worldwide by his apostles and all who believe in him.