Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Kind of "Messiah" Jesus Had in Mind (Thursday Week II in Ordinary Time, Mark 3:7-12)

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples.
A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea.
Hearing what he was doing,
a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem,
from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan,
and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.
He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd,
so that they would not crush him.

He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases
were pressing upon him to touch him.
And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him
and shout, “You are the Son of God.”
He warned them sternly not to make him known.

Why did Jesus so sternly bid the unclean spirit in today's gospel to be silent? The reason is simple yet compelling. Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Anointed One, yet his idea of "Messiahship" was so far removed from the idea popular at that time. While he understood it in terms of love, service, sacrifice, and the cross, the idea in most people's minds--including his disciples'--was that of a conquering hero who would destroy the Roman occupying power with his vast army, thereby re-establishing Israel as a powerful and independent nation.

If a rumor were thus to spread that the awaited Messiah had indeed arrived, the result could only be uprisings and rebellions on the part of the Jews and even greater repression and persecution by the Romans.

This was simply not Jesus' way. And throughout his ministry, he never failed to insist that his way was different, going as far as rebuking Peter in another part of the gospel--calling him "Satan" (Adversary)--for failing (0r refusing) to understand and accept that his "way" was different from the world's.

Jesus thought of Messiahship in terms of love, most of the Jewish people at the time thought of it solely in terms of nationalism. Thus, before there could be any proclamation of Jesus' Messiahship, he had first to lead people to a true understanding of his role and mission. At this particular stage of his ministry, nothing but harm and disaster could come from a proclamation that the Anointed One had come. It would not have brought salvation but useless war and bloodshed.

Men and women had first to learn the true meaning of what a Messiah was, and consequently any premature announcement--even from the unclean spirits he had cast out--would only have wrecked his entire mission.

Good things come to those who know how to wait, who patiently look forward to the "right time", to "God's time". Confronted by this unclean spirit who knew fully well who Jesus was and who wanted to let the entire world in on what he knew, Jesus forbade him from doing so, because he knew the right time had not yet come.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)