That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Two things jump out at me in this passage. One minor, one more significant.
To the minor first: once people get word of what Jesus can do – cleanse and heal mind, body, and spirit – they flock to him. The whole city, Mark records. But probably not the whole city. As we’ll see in other early chapters of this gospel, it’s typically the common folk who appreciate Jesus, and by “common folk” I mean the powerless. He will rarely appeal to those in power, for what need can those who “have it all” possibly have for him? No, Jesus appeals to those in need: the sick, the lame, the possessed, the disenfranchised. I suspect the same is true today. The more comfortable we are, the more well-off (however you define that), the more powerful, the more “self-made” we are, the less actual need we have for Jesus.
As to the major issue, it’s just a detail in this scene, but it has occasioned significant debate and discussion since the beginning of the church. Most simply put: why doesn’t Jesus let those who recognize him tell? Scholars describe this as Mark’s “messianic secret,” as throughout this gospel Jesus bids various folks not to tell who he is or what he has done for them.
In this scene it’s the demons who recognize him immediately. Which is curious; I mean, why the demons? Perhaps because they recognize his power, the power to drive them from their comfortable abodes in the hearts of hurting and broken humanity. But that still doesn’t explain why Jesus won’t permit them to speak of his identity?
There are tons of theories on this score, most of which get confounded by a close reading of Mark’s account. So rather than offer a theory, I’ll simply share a hunch. It’s too easy to get confused about Jesus, particularly if we identify him primarily in terms of these demonstrations of power. That is, I think there are many facets to Jesus’ identity, and the temptation is to reduce that complexity to one or two elements or attributes and miss the entirety of who he is and what he accomplishes.
More than that, I think Mark is already pointing us to the cross. If we identify Jesus primarily as a miracle worker than we may miss how deeply God identifies with us in our pain, brokenness, and need. There’s a hint of that already – who does Jesus tend? Those in need. But we won’t really understand how deeply God joins God’s own self to us in Jesus until we realize the lengths – or maybe better, the depths – to which God will go to demonstrate God’s love for us in the cross.
We’re only in chapter one of Mark’s account, of course, so let’s keep listening and watching to see if this hunch bears out.
Prayer: Dear God, help us to look for you in our need and in our response to others need, for you desire still to meet us at the points of our brokenness so that you can restore us and your whole creation to health. In Jesus’ name, Amen.