Monday, August 28, 2017

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Secrets of Jesus

Jesus was and is still a man of secrets. During his earthly life he had many secrets, truths which he did not want others to know. Even today he has still so many secrets. The time of his coming again in physical form he has kept a secret from us. When he comes again he will give secret names to those who are very special to him. In Revelation 2:17 Jesus says that to the person who overcomes the trials he will give a secret manna and a new name which is secret to all except to him to whom he gives a stone.

Today's Gospel reading is about a secret which has puzzled many Bible scholars. Our reading ends "Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ". He wanted this truth, that he was the Christ, to be kept a secret by his disciples.

Jesus asked his disciples who he was according to the people around them. They answered that some people thought he was John the Baptizer risen to life after being killed by king Herod. Other people thought that he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets come alive again. Then Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter answered that for them he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the person whom they expected for more than four hundred years now, the successor to David as the king of the Jews and the Israelites. Jesus acknowledged that indeed he was but he strictly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah, the anointed king in the line of King David.

Such a reaction on the part of Jesus was strange. Jesus, as his name means, came to save sinners. But sinners could only be saved if they believed in Jesus. How could they believe if they were not told that Jesus was the longed-for Messiah? Strange indeed!

This was so strange and so noticeable when we read the Gospels that a man by the name of William Wrede wrote about this secret in 1901. He called this the Messianic Secret. And he proposed that Jesus did not say this injunction to keep his identity as Messiah a secret. For Wrede it was rather an invention of Mark, the first written Gospel to come to us. And this invention was adopted by Matthew and Luke, the succeeding Gospels.

Many Bible scholars accepted this teaching of Wrede, that it was really Mark who made this a secret, putting it in the mouth of Jesus. The height of this acceptance was in 1920, when almost all scholars, Catholics and Protestants, agreed with Wrede. Then critics of this opinion began to appear and eventually in the 1970s they no longer followed Wrede.

Their conclusion was that it was really Jesus, and not Mark, who wanted his messiahship to be a secret for non-disciples.

Now, we ask: Why would Jesus want to keep his being the Messiah a secret?

Many answers have been given to this question. We can only mention some of them now. We cannot probe into their validity or invalidity, the correctness or incorrectness of the reasons given.

One reason given is that Jesus did not want the crowd to confuse him with a political messiah, since they expected this kind of messiah, one who would deliver the Jews from Roman rule. So he did not want his disciples to tell the crowd he was the Messiah lest the crowd misunderstand the nature of his messiahship.

Another reason given was that Jesus was intent on proclaiming the kingdom of God, and not about him. Jesus told people the kingdom was already near. So did the disciples tell the people. But Jesus did not want the focus of this preaching on himself but on God establishing his reign or kingdom.

A third reason is termed "narrative irony". A tendency of people when you tell them a secret is that they will tell this to others. The more you tell them that it is a secret, the more they will broadcast it. Thus when Jesus told a person whom he cured of leprosy to tell no one about his healing, the more this person went out to tell others (Mark 1:41-45). This reason would imply that Jesus really wanted his secret to be known but he told others not to publish it so that ironically they would spread it the more.

Another reason given was that Jesus wanted his disciples to keep their faith hidden from public scrutiny. He did not want his disciples to be disturbed in their faith by the crowds.

I have five more reasons listed by scholars of the Bible but we have no time to go into these additional reasons.

One thing is true. Jesus had secrets which he did not want others to know.

One supposed secret which developed into a book which sold 80 million copies as of 2009 and which was translated into 44 languages, was that Jesus had a wife. This wife was Mary Magdalene. Their children became the ancestors of French kings. This supposed secret is contained in a book entitled THE DA VINCI CODE written by Dan Brown and published in 2003.

When Dan Brown was asked whether this secret was fiction or historical, he said it was historical. That was how he made it to appear in his book, that Jesus had a wife, Mary Magdalene.

Many critics, even unbelievers, have rejected the historicity of this story of Brown. The reason mainly is that the facts used are not historical. This is unlike the historical novels of my favorite author Irving Wallace which are well researched and provide the real facts as narrated by history.

Now, we Catholics do not believe in such a story by Dan Brown, but what he failed to point out was that Jesus has even now secrets of his life. Yes, Jesus has secrets because he was and still is a man of secrets.

One secret is that he lives in you and me. This is not known by most people around us. By baptism his Spirit was poured into us so that we began to live his life. This is so true that Paul almost shouted in his Letter to the Galatians, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (2:20).

The first reading talks about a secret which the Lord said to Shebna, the treasurer in Jerusalem. The Lord through Isaiah the Prophet told him that he was about to lose his post and the Lord would give this to Eliakim, the rightful ruler of Israel. Shebna used the nation's wealth to lord it over the people. In contrast Eliakim would be like a father to his people.The prophecy of Isaiah in this reading was a secret God alone knew.

In the second reading Paul asked the Romans in his letter to them, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" The obvious answer is "no one". The mind of the Lord has all the secrets of the universe. He alone knows whether there are other planets out there peopled by creatures like us. He alone knows the next advances in technology. We only grope for answers to the questions posed by technology. With Jesus everything is as clear as the light of noonday. He knows where humanity is going, what will be the advances in technology.

There is one comforting thought. Jesus reveals his secrets to those he loves. Amos 3:7 says that God does nothing unless he reveals his council to his servants and prophets.

And in John 15:15 Jesus tells his disciples that he calls them his friends because everything he has learned from his father he has revealed to them. It is no longer a secret for them.

There is a secret which Jesus has revealed to you and me personally. Jesus loves secrets and he loves to share these with only his friends.

Let us bow our heads as we pray.

Lord Jesus, you are the repository of all secrets. Thank you for the secrets you have shared with us, especially your life which keeps on growing in and through us.  Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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