A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Jesus said to the man: See that you say nothing to anyone; but …
Down the centuries there have been many different interpretations of these words. Jesus has just been confronted by a man of faith, faith that flourished despite the leprosy that put grave restrictions on his life. That man begged for the gift of healing. Recognizing his faith, Jesus chose to grant that miraculous gift. But then, Jesus told the man to say nothing to anyone. This moment in the gospel narrative is not unique. There are several times when Jesus tells people, including his disciples, not to tell others of what they have experienced or seen. What can we draw from such moments? We, like the twelve disciples, are called to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with all. As Jesus modelled love and service in the way he lived his own life, so we are called to do the same. We are called to be the vehicles through which his healing touch may be felt in this troubled world. So, why might Jesus have told those early recipients of his miraculous compassion not to pass on the message?
We are not able to give a definitive answer to that question. Jesus did not leave us an explanation for these words. We can only meditate upon them and seek to connect with the wisdom that lies behind them. Several possible explanations spring to mind: did Jesus feel that the world was not ready for the full truth of what his power could achieve? Did Jesus feel that humanity would only truly understand what he was doing after the whole story had been played out? Was Jesus simply testing us? Was he wondering whether we were capable of obeying the simplest of instructions from our Lord and Saviour. But, of course, such an instruction was not ‘simple’. Surely Jesus realized that the life-changing signs he was performing would generate celebration, elation and repetition.
There is, of course, another way of thinking about Jesus’ command to say nothing to anyone. There is a well-known saying that is attributed to St Francis of Assisi. That saying is: Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words. Whether or not these words were ever uttered by Francis is a matter of some controversy, but that controversy is a red herring, it is irrelevant. It is the message behind these words that provide us with a powerful blueprint for living the life of a true disciple in the twenty-first century. We are not called to be like the first century scribes and Pharisees who delighted in exploring the minutiae of God’s word, coming to incorrect conclusions and then imposing their own rules upon others. Rather, we are called to share God’s love with all, to shine with the light of Christ, to show in real terms the joy of the Christian message. Every day we are presented with opportunities to testify to the love of God in our lives. Every day we risk falling into the trap of the Pharisees. We risk using human wisdom to create confusion and misunderstanding when we should simply be showing others what the Good News of Jesus Christ really means.
Before we rush into sharing our thoughts and ‘wisdom’ with others, let us stop, say nothing, and do everything we can to let those amongst whom we live see just how much they are loved.
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