Why does Jesus want to keep Himself a secret? In today’s Gospel, we find Him doing some amazing things, things we often wish someone would do or could do for us today—he heals people who’ve been terribly, catastrophically ill, people no one could figure out how to help, lost causes. He has come to this area, wanting no one to know he is there, and he works these miracles, but he asks those he helps to tell no one about how they were healed, who brought about their miraculous cure. Why? He doesn’t even, at first, want to share his power with the Gentile woman who comes to him, in one of the hardest passages to read about Jesus, I think, how could he want to withhold his healing power from anyone who needed it? what’s going on, here? If God has decided to come to earth, to be here among us, why doesn’t he just come, all in?
There are a few possible explanations: perhaps he is showing us an example of humility, that God doesn’t want to be all, get me, I’m the Messiah; God wants to offer us a face of gentle modesty. Certainly, Jesus does show us that, in many places. He doesn’t claim any status, he hangs out with outcasts, with the poor. Not boasting about what he can do is consistent with his self-effacing approach to humanity. Perhaps, as we see during his forty days in the wilderness, or in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ sometimes had a profound need for solitude, especially as a counterweight to the constant demands of people pressing in on him from every side, wanting and needing, hoping and asking. Or maybe this secrecy was part of a calculated plan, indicating that the right time for Christ’s identity to be fully revealed had not yet arrived, just as when he says to his mother, when she asks him to do something about the wine situation at the wedding in Cana, “My time has not yet come.”
There could have been many reasons for Jesus to want to keep himself secret, to keep his true nature and destiny hidden—we don’t know what the reason was, but we know that he did desire it, at this point in his story, and that he often still does. God is still hidden from us, so much of the time. His motives, his presence, are kept from us, we feel it. And God seems hidden from some of us, more than from others—how is that fair? We all know people, people close to us, who just don’t seem to feel the need for God, or any sense of connection to faith, even though we wish so much that we could share that with them. And we all know times and ways in which God just seems to be absent from us, from our lives or from the whole, desolate world, usually when we need him most.
We can be in crisis, like the woman with her sick daughter, desperate and finding no help, nothing in our experience or resources providing a solution. Or we can have a chronic need, like the man who cannot walk, and we’re daily brought up again the atrocious injustice of God’s apparent favour on some, who are so readily given abilities and normalcy. When will God smile on our lives, as he seems to do with such unthinking ease on so many others?
The sense of God’s withdrawing from the world, from our reach, is so palpable and so universal that the church has developed a vocabulary for it. Deus absconditus, they called it in the Latin of medieval theology—the God who has absconded, run away, concealed himself from us. That is the God we meet in today’s Gospel, a Jesus who doesn’t want to be there for us, who is unavailable.
But there was a parallel term, the other side of the theological coin: Deus revelatus, the God who is revealed to us. When we look, we find him here, even in this enigmatic text. For just as much as Christ wants time to himself, wants to keep his miracles a secret, just as much do the people desire to make him known. This irrepressible desire bubbles up and must find its expression. They get the word out, that he’s here, and more and more show up. He’s close by, they say, he can be approached and petitioned for help—beg him, for whatever you want, he can’t refuse, he never does. Those who are healed, even though they are warned to keep silent, immediately go and tell everyone they know about the relief that has come unexpectedly, joyfully, into their lives.
God is revealed, even when God is hidden. In moments when we feel most abandoned and alone, we can be surprise by the kindness we are shown, by the presence and understanding of someone who is close by and approachable. God is revealed, in the midst of our darkness, by words that manage to move us out of places where we were trapped or stuck, and free us to discover some grace, wherever we are.
Who has revealed God to you? Who have made love real and visible, perhaps in a new way, or perhaps just reminding you of something you’d forgotten or become afraid to hope for? Who has shown up for you, friend or stranger, in your time of need? What if God hides his glorious face so that we, in our weakness, can see him in smaller places, in the sordid rooms and dim twilights or our existence, in these latter days. Could he be daring us to hear his distant, growing triumph, in the voices of our neighbours, and our not-so-neighbours, speaking familiar words in new ways?
How are we revealing God to our world? What is the part of the story that is bubbling up in you, that you cannot help but tell? Even if the world will think it’s weird, even if it seems more cool or more acceptable to keep quiet about it? Let’s notice, after all, that Jesus doesn’t punish or send away those who cry out for his help, or make him known—he praises and rewards them for their audacity. To the Gentile woman who dared to address him, much less ask him for something, Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go, your daughter has been made well.”
God is the one who is going to remain, in some way, hidden, until the end of time, until the day breaks and the shadows flee away. But we’re not supposed to—not supposed to hide our light under a bushel, not supposed to bury our treasure, not supposed to keep the Good News quiet. Our job is to speak, to tell his story, in every language and with every means we can think of, and some we haven’t thought of yet. Say it with words. Say it with acts of service and compassion. Say it to our children, to each other, to anyone who will listen, and even to those you think aren’t listening or can’t hear.
If Jesus were here, if he had come close by, and walked among us, would he say now, as he never did then, I love your silence about me, as you go about your business? What can we say, with all our lives and every moment we’ve got left, so that he will turn to us and answer, as he did to that woman, “For saying that,” I will heal.