THOSE of you who get this far will realise that this column does its best to avoid at all costs religion. By this I mean punditry, theology and anything more intellectual than a decade of the Rosary. Sometimes, however, it is inescapable and you may leave now if you wish.
My pen droops in shame at having taken so long to acknowledge • so many helpful letters since, way back in March, wondered why Jesus had enjoined silence so often on both those who witnessed and those who benefitted from his miracles.
"Are you sure you are not pulling our legs?" asks Patrick Stack from London.
I promise you I was not pulling anybody's leg. The answer is simply, he says, "that Christ refused to give signs for the sake of getting attention. The miracles were coincidental with the act of healing — which we are told he did out of compassion. 'Tell no man' makes the intention clear — at least to us in this age."
Several of you took this view but by far the most common interpretation sent to me is summarised by George Marshall from Clacton-on-Sea who says "The surest way of gaining publicity is to request the person `To keep it secret'."
I'm not sure how serious you all were about this one but it's not for me. A letter from Walton on Thames has arrived from someone (indecipherable) almost as slow on the draw as I am.
"I asked the opinions of our ecumenical group, intending to reply straight away but then went to sleep. (?) They suggested that: 1. He knew his actions would stir up strife in his enemies and did not wish to anticipate his death before he had fulfilled all the scriptures that had to be fulfilled.
2. He had enough crowds to cope with as it was.
3. They may have been intended as personal revelations of his concern."
A thoughtful reply. There were more cerebral efforts and I only wish I could quote all of them.
"Relax" writes Maurice O'Sullivan from Co Wicklow "you're in good company . . No less a biblical scholar (and a giant among them — he's just finished a term as editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly) than Joseph A Fitzmyer SJ writes 'it does create a problem since one tends to wonder how the parents'could possibly have concealed the fact of the resuscitation'," Fitzmyer, as quoted by my learned correspondent, says "This is a Lucan reformulation of the prohibition of Mark 5:43a, where it makes better sense, fitting in with the pattern of the Messsianic secret in that part of the Marcan Gospel".
Then my friend quotes from the Jerusalem Bible. "Jesus forbids the news that he is the Messiah to be spread by the devils . . . by those he cures . . . even by the apostles.
The silence is not to be broken until after his death since the prevailing idea of the Messiah was nationalistic and warlike, in sharp contrast with his own ideal, Jesus had to be very careful, at last on Israelite soil, to avoid giving a false and dangerous impression of his mission.
Some have claimed that the 'Messianic Secret' is an invention of Mark but it may well have been Jesus' own, to which Mark has given special prominence."