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Mark: ‘Can you keep a secret?’

Have you ever read the Gospel of Mark straight through? It’s only 20 pages long and takes about 45 minutes. You’ll be jarred on every other page by this strange command of Jesus: “Shush ... don’t tell a soul!” What’s up with this?

All reputable Scripture scholars agree that Mark’s gospel was the first attempt to tell the story of Jesus. It was written in Greek for “Jesus Jews” who had just endured the invasion of Roman troops from the year 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. The Roman emperor had sent Titus to destroy the temple in Jerusalem. All Jews — whether Jesus Jews or Torah Jews, whether in Jerusalem or in Rome itself — were scared to death.

Mark wrote a gospel of hope and a gospel of caution for frightened people.

It was a gospel of hope because it clearly outlined the power and promises of their messianic hero and made him come alive on the pages of the scroll. This was the man they could trust. This was the man who could lead them into the Kingdom of God. Don’t worry, Jesus had said, even though the Romans begin to tear down your house,“there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God come in power.” (Mark 9:1)

But it was also a gospel of caution: “Can you keep a secret?” Mark’s gospel is only 16 short chapters, but it contains over 13 commands to “keep it secret.” Every time Mark records a demon who recognizes Jesus, the demon is told to shut up. When Mark describes Jesus and his miraculous healings, the lucky recipients are ordered to “tell no one.” Even the wonderful parables are said to keep outsiders from learning the secret.

What’s up with this?

We have two alternatives:

▪  Either Jesus himself wanted his Jewish followers to keep this secret. Or ...

▪  Mark wanted his Jesus Jew readers to keep this secret.

Until 1901, most Christian writers called this the messianic secret, and they taught that Jesus himself thought that his Jewish followers would never be able to understand his messiahship until after his resurrection. Therefore he told them to be quiet about what they were seeing and remember it later.

In 1901, a Lutheran pastor named William Wrede, said, “Wait a minute; that doesn’t make sense!” Wrede maintained that it wasn’t the followers of Jesus who needed to keep their faith a secret. It was the readers of Mark. Jesus and his disciples were racing up and down Galilee proclaiming the good news, and they wanted it to be talked about. What preacher gives a sermon and then says “please don’t repeat this!” What entertainer puts on a show and then demands that the producers take it off the air? Why wouldn’t Jesus want everybody to hear about his message and his healings?

On the other hand, 40 years later, Mark’s readers were being persecuted by the Romans for their Jewishness, and they needed to be cautious. They were also running into problems in their own synagogues with all this “Jesus talk.” “Therefore,” said Rev. Wrede, “I think these are not the words of Jesus to his followers, but an addition by the author of Mark for the benefit of his readers.”

I like that. I never did like the messianic secret theory. It just didn’t make sense that Jesus would want to keep his fabulous message a secret, but I accepted it because that’s what I was taught. But then Rev. Wrede opened up a whole new way of looking at it.

What if Mark and the other evangelists were “inspired by God” to take the message of Jesus and make it real for their readers? Who’s to say they couldn’t do that? I think that once we begin to examine when the Scriptures were written and by whom and for whom, all sorts of possibilities emerge. And once we admit that inspiration does not force God into just one literary form (the historical), we can begin to enjoy the true beauty and breadth of the Scriptures.

Who’s to say we can’t do this?

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.