Hey, Father! Why does Jesus, after healing someone, instructs the person to not to tell anyone?

I often wonder why Jesus, after healing someone, instructs the person not to tell anyone as in Mark 1:40-45.

Janet in Forsyth

Dear Janet,

The Scripture you cite comes at the end of the very long first day of Jesus’ ministry. In that first day, Jesus proclaimed “the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel;” called Simon and Andrew, James and John out of their boats to follow Him; taught at the synagogue in Capernaum; rebuked and cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue; raised up Peter’s mother-in-law from her sickbed; and healed an untold number of sick and suffering who came to His door.

Jesus has been sought out again and again by those in need, even in the dark hours of night and earliest morning. It had indeed been a long day, and Jesus has revealed Himself to be a man full of divine power and authority. As a result, He has been overwhelmed by the press of sickness, suffering, and human need.

It’s also begun to form people’s idea of who Jesus is and what He’s about. He’s a miracle worker and a healer. But the question is does Jesus want people to have that impression? Or to ask the question in another way, what does Jesus believe to be the most important thing about being the Messiah? Is it healing and miracles or is it something else?

Then, empowered by fevered desperation, a leper approaches Jesus, kneels in the dirt before Him and begs the Lord to make him clean. “If you wish … .” Curiously, Jesus gets angry. Our translation says pity, but Jesus reacts very strongly and emotionally. 

Why and with whom is Jesus angry? Is He angry at the leper who has dared to approach Him contrary to the legal prescription? Is He angry at the questioning of His willingness to exercise the power at His disposal? Is He angry at the manifestation of the demonic hold on humanity displayed in the man’s ravaged physical condition? All of these explanations are possible, but could it also be that this is just one more interruption, one more obstruction on the road to Jerusalem?

Won’t it produce, as the healings of Peter’s mother-in-law and the crowds at Capernaum did, a popular misperception of Jesus’ mission? Won’t it lead astray possible disciples, pushing them away from the necessity of the Cross? 

You see, that’s what Jesus knows to be the most important and fundamental aspect of being the Messiah: the Cross. He will go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise from the dead. That’s the Messiah’s mission.

Jesus will cleanse the leper, but He knows the attention it will draw and the misdirection it will produce, leading people away from the truth of who He is and what He’s really about. So, He tells the former leper not to say anything.

Scholars call it the “Messianic Secret,” Jesus asking those He’s healed to not say anything fearing it will interfere with the coming Pascal Mystery, but we know the leper doesn’t keep quiet and it’s hard to blame him. Yet, it will bring more scrutiny and pressure on Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem and His destiny.

Father Seth Brown is pastor of Mother of Dolors in Vandalia and St. Joseph in Ramsey. He is also chaplain of Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry, chaplain of the Vandalia Correctional Center, and research theologian for the Diocesan Curia.