Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.
What a gang, eh? So full of excitement and passion about Jesus’ deeds, they couldn’t be held back by “the Man.” And isn’t that what missions are? Being so full of excitement and passion that you can’t keep your testimony inside? And look at you, you slug, as you keep all that good news inside. You should be more like the people in the text, incapable of keeping such good news inside you.
I’ve heard this text taught this way too many times. The problem is, “the Man” is Jesus, and when He commands something, He tends to mean it. “Mean it” meaning, it has meaning; there’s a reason for why He says the things He says. In fact, the text suggests Jesus told them more than once, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen!” And the more He told them – no, commanded it – the more they proclaimed it.
The Lord has harsh words for such as these, especially in Jeremiah: “I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.” Or again, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.”
Keep in mind, “prophesied” is essentially the same as “proclaimed” or “testified to,” per Revelation 19: 10, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” It’s not strong exegesis to string random texts together to make a point, but in a sense, we can do it here at least in a heuristic sense. To proclaim a Jesus who heals the deaf is a “false vision” or “a worthless thing” or even “a deceit of the heart.”
What is false about it? What is worthless about it? What is deceptive about it? “Deception” means a half truth, or a hidden truth; and “worthless” means empty, and that’s exactly what the proclamation of the disobedient “prophets” in the Gospel was.
Jesus knew a Gospel message that only proclaimed your best life now presented an ineffective Jesus, a Jesus only for the now, a Jesus who essentially was a good doctor. It was half true: yes, Jesus will make all things new, but in this world, that newness is only enjoyed by a handful of people, as a sign to reveal His divinity, not as a program for general earthly wellness. Yes, Jesus can heal the deaf, but the deaf will still die; such a message that ends with a Jesus who heals the deaf is thus ultimately worthless. And yes, Jesus has all authority to fix people on earth, but to abstract this truth as the Gospel formula for the Church today is false.
So, could Jesus have just gone around the world, healing everyone of their diseases and problems? Yes, but in God’s wisdom the ultimate disease would not have been healed, and could only have been healed once Jesus died on the cross and rose again.
For, in Mark’s Gospel especially, the only time Jesus does something, after which He is proclaimed the Son of God and the one proclaiming this is not rebuked, is when He dies. He dies, and the centurion proclaims what others proclaimed throughout the Gospel of Mark, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus doesn’t forbid this testimony, because that testimony is not false, deceptive, or worthless. That message is the sum and substance of the Gospel. We preach “Christ crucified.”
The Son of God must die. The Son of God must die because that is the curse Adam received and all men inherited. What moved the centurion to see rightly what others saw only in half-truth fulfillment? The Gospel of Mark tells us the centurion confessed this after Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So, a centurion sees a man crying out in a loud voice (I need to amend what I wrote recently that perhaps Jesus spoke these words quietly, intimately to those nearby) that God has forsaken him, and his conclusion is that truly this man is the son of God, or “a” son of God, as there’s no definite article in the Greek. (When the demon proclaimed Jesus the son of God, and Jesus forbade the demon, the definite article is included.)
Did the centurion stumble on a sublime, existential truth about man, those made in God’s image? To be “of God” is to suffer and die? This world order must pass away before the new one can begin? Whether he recognized these truths or not, this in fact is the truth. As Revelation puts it, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. …Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ ”
This world, and all its children, must pass away before the new one can begin. And Jesus is the “firstborn among many brethren” as Romans puts it. The deaf man’s healing – with its baptismal spit, with heaven’s opened womb – is certainly a type of the restoration of creation, but it’s not, in itself, anything more than a type. Which is why Jesus didn’t want this message proclaimed.
People do a disservice to the Gospel when they proclaim an insufficiently-cosmic restoration: “Following biblical principles improved my finances…Jesus shows how we should make the world a better place by caring for others…Jesus teaches your best life now.”
No, a Gospel that doesn’t end with the greatest representative of this world order hanging dead on a cross, laying the foundation for a new creation to arise, is false, deceptive, and worthless. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Or as it’s put in the Gospel of John, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Only death to this world is a Gospel worthy of proclamation. That’s a difficult truth for many to embrace. We’d rather run around boasting about all the great things God has done for us in this world, like the Pharisee in last week’s Gospel. But the only sanctioned message is the cross, death to this world, looking forward to the life to come.
As St. Paul writes, “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” That is the Gospel worthy of proclamation.