[Texts: Mark 1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9]
Again and again — not that it did any good — Jesus in his Galilean ministry of teaching, healing, and exorcism kept telling people (and demons) to keep a lid on it.
The spirits had his number, all right, according to whatever manner the demonic grapevine works — “I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” exclaims the first in Mark’s narrative; later encounters were characterized by words wrenched from their host: “You are the Son of God!” But he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
Certain healings, perhaps in key places or at particularly vulnerable times, were also accompanied by a “Shhh! Don’t tell!” message. But it was really hard not to spill the beans when your body was suddenly clean and you were anticipating life among your people again: “He went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news,” says Mark of a leper. And how could anyone keep the word from racing like fire through Capernaum when a prominent leader’s little daughter had leapt from her deathbed to dance in the courtyard?
Most ironic, perhaps, is the gag order given to the man who had been deaf and mute, but who now “spoke plainly” (Mark 7:31-37): “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” As the old hymn puts it, “How can I keep from singing?”
One of the reasons he wanted to hush these things up was the practical issue of crowd control, which enthusiastic PR did not simplify one bit. As a result of a leper’s publicity campaign, “Jesus could no longer enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” But of more acute concern were the machinations of the Important Ones, who even at this distance from Jerusalem had begun scheming to destroy him. Tellingly, Jesus does not bother with “Shhh! Don’t tell!” when they are already present in his audience — and the imperative disappears as he sets his face for the city that stoned the prophets. Now he does not need to hold anyone in check; it’s time to go.
Given all this secrecy, the outcome of the tragi-comedy among the tombs of the Decapolis should make us wonder. Clothed and in his right mind, the former host of legions receives marching orders from his new Centurion: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” It is an exception granted to one who is excluded from the covenants of Israel, but who now has both hope and God in the world: the word he carries into his community is the down-payment on a time that is coming when all the words of this life will be spoken freely and without hindrance, everywhere.