Why did Jesus Say “Tell No one?”

In yesterday’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus heals a leper, but then warns him “sternly” to not tell anybody what happened.  This happens many times in the Gospels, and I’ve always been mystified by it; if I were the leper, I would probably go right ahead and tell everyone, too.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want us to witness to his mercy and his healing power?  My priest, Fr. K., finally cleared this up for me, and it suddenly answered a lot of other questions I had.  According to Fr. K., Jesus didn’t want the news of his healing miracles spread around because he didn’t want people thinking that physical healing was his main purpose.  He came to save us from Hell; any other miracles that he performed were really extras.

I often struggle with the fact that God is able to save us from all our sufferings, to answer all our prayers for healing, but he doesn’t.  He only heals sometimes. Then I noticed that in the Gospels, even when Jesus was walking around and directly healing people, he still didn’t heal everyone; as far as we know, he didn’t fill up his 33 years with healing everyone he could reach.  Instead, he healed some, and he preached to more; but he came to save everybody. 

In the Jewish Passover ceremony, we recite a litany with the refrain “dayenu–it would have been enough for us, it would have sufficed us.”  Had the Lord saved Israel from slavery, but not opened the Red Sea for them, it would have been enough.  Had he led them through the Red Sea, but not given them manna in the desert, it would have been enough.  Had he given them manna, but not allowed them to reach the Promised Land, it would have been enough.  In the same way, had Jesus redeemed us by his death, but not saved us from earthly suffering, it would have been enough.

For me, this is the only answer to the question of why God allows suffering; but it’s not the end of the story.  In the Gospels, Jesus is often “moved with pity” (Mark 8:2) to go above and beyond his original mission.  He wants us to remember that God does not owe us anything, and that the enormous gift of Heaven is more than “enough for us;” but he loves to do extra things for us, too.  So go ahead and pray for whatever you want!  But if God doesn’t respond, remember that what he has already given us what we need.

Sometime this week I’d like to follow up on this theme, as a remedy for existential crises.  Stay tuned!

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4 thoughts on “Why did Jesus Say “Tell No one?”

  1. Jesus definitely drew away by himself a lot to pray, for sure. But it also says he couldn’t enter any of the towns anymore. I’m sure there was no way around the fact that eventually Jesus was going to develop a reputation for being a healer, and that once that happened, he was going to be mobbed by people wanting healing. But he had just said a couple verses before that his purpose in coming was to preach. When huge crowds came to listen to him preach, he could do that. But when huge crowds came for healing… well, it’s hard to heal and preach at the same time. The more people kept quiet about his healing during his early ministry (or anytime he was in a new area), the more preaching he could get done before he was overwhelmed with people wanting healing. I’m not saying that was the only thing going on with Jesus’ ministry, but I think it was a piece of the overall dynamic.

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  2. That “don’t tell anyone” mystified me, too. Then one day I read the whole passage, and saw what happened when the healed man DID tell everyone. Jesus was here in this town, preaching about the Kingdom of God—presumably lots of the same parables we hear elsewhere, trying to get people to move towards that inner change for holiness and closeness to God that makes His Church possible. But when the man tells everyone about his healing, all anyone can think about is more physical healing (much like what your priest said). Jesus is swamped by crowds of the sick and injured; he spends so much time healing them that he can’t continue his preaching. So, in the end, Jesus has to leave and go somewhere else, and that town misses out on any more of the preaching. If the guy had obeyed Jesus’ command not to tell, that wouldn’t have happened.

    I have come across more than one person who has had experiences with God that they have been commanded not to tell others about. It’s just as hard for them not to tell as it was for that leper, I think. But it’s important.

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    • That’s a good point! Although Jesus often seems to draw away on purpose, only to be followed by the crowds. But I wonder if that is also because he was crowded with people wanting healing. I seem to remember that Jesus draws away by himself an awful lot in the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if he just wanted to pray by himself, too.

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