From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 1:40-45
One of the most striking features of the Gospel of Mark is the theme of the “messianic secret.” Although Jesus does mighty works of healing and deliverance, he repeatedly insists that these works not be publicized (1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 9:9) and forbids both people (8:30) and demons (1:25, 34; 3:12) to reveal his true identity. Why?
The key to the puzzle is found only after Peter’s confession of faith (8:27–30). Jesus’ messianic identity is a deeper mystery than any of his followers yet fathom, and it must be unveiled gradually.
The messiah of popular expectation was a political and military leader who would liberate Israel from Roman domination and usher in a new world of peace and prosperity. But Jesus had come to bring a much greater liberation—from the domination of sin, Satan, and death—and his mission was inseparably linked with the laying down of his life on the cross. Until that mystery was revealed, the risk was that sensational reports about his miracles would generate a false and distorted messianic enthusiasm.
Although it is easy for us in hindsight to disparage Jesus’ contemporaries for their worldly expectations, his twenty-first century followers are just as prone to misinterpret him on an earthly, superficial level—for instance, in some forms of liberation theology or in the “prosperity gospel.” The gradual disclosure of the messianic secret has to happen for every Christian, as we learn from Jesus the paradox of the cross.
As we are purified of our limited human ideas of what God’s kingdom should be, we are led into the reality that is far greater: what “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard . . . what God has prepared for those who love him” (see 1 Cor 2:9).