When Jesus asks for silence
This Sunday’s Gospel includes two awesome manifestations of the Lord’s power. But oddly, the passages that I find most intriguing are comparatively minor details: little things that Jesus says.
First, when the woman who suffered from hemorrhages touches his clothes, …
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”
The disciples are incredulous, wondering how, in a dense, milling crowd, with people no doubt bumping into each other constantly, they could be expected to identify one person who touched the Lord’s garment. But the woman—no doubt electrified by what she already realized had happened to her—gives herself away.
Or did she? Maybe Jesus, who knows human nature so well, was able to look over the crowd, read all the faces, and immediately recognize the woman who had just experienced a miracle.
But even more fascinating is the fact that the Lord worked this miracle, it seems, passively. He did not, as in other miracles, place his hand on the woman in blessing. He did not even look at her, until after the fact. Yet He was aware that something had happened.
In the translation that most American Catholics heard on Sunday, the miracle is described as a “power” that went forth from Jesus: a power something like an electrical current, strong enough to flow through his garments. Older version said that it was “virtue” that went out from Him. That translation could be confusing, because it might be misinterpreted to suggest that somehow Jesus had less virtue after the incident, whereas “power” suggests that the Lord is a dynamo, generating ever more power.
Still the use of “virtue” has another benefit, because it reminds us that virtue is a strength. The ancients understood that a man of virtue is a strong man: a man who has power. In sloppy modern usage, a “virtuous” man or woman is often understood to mean someone who doesn’t get into trouble: someone who takes no chances. Rightly understood, the reference to Jesus feeling “virtue” going out of Him is a useful reminder that virtues are powers.
But on to the second minor detail that intrigues me, which occurs almost at the end of Sunday’s Gospel reading. After raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus “strictly charged them that no one should know this.” Now how could the people of that household possibly carry out the Lord’s orders? Many people saw the girl dead; they laughed at Jesus when He said she was only sleeping. Now she is walking around, healthy. There will be questions; people will want an explanation.
This is not the only instance in which Jesus, having performed a miracle, asks people to keep it quiet. Can He be serious? Again, He knows human nature; He knows how curious we are, how insistent on seeking explanations for what we cannot understand. When a cripple walks or a leper is cleansed, there will be questions—insistent questions.
We can see the Lord’s humility in these appeals for secrecy; He does not want to boast of his accomplishments. But people will talk; surely He knows that. Why are the crowds pressing on Him? To hear his teaching, yes; but also to see his wonders.
Coming down from the mountain after the Transfiguration, Jesus instructs his apostles not to tell anyone about that astonishing event. In that case it would have been at least possible for them to honor his wishes, since no one else witnessed the event. Even at that, I cannot help thinking that St. Peter would have been bursting with the desire to tell what he had seen. (Is it noteworthy that the Gospel of St. Mark, generally believed to be influenced heavily by St. Peter, puts so much emphasis on the Lord’s miracles?) But the daughter of Jairus was walking, and her neighbors were undoubtedly asking questions. If the family could not say that Jesus had healed her, what could they say? In the same circumstances, what would you say?
On this triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus said that if the people were silent, the rocks and stones would shout. No doubt they would; if his power can be felt through his garments, it could be felt through the ground. But in Jerusalem—and, I feel sure, in the cases of the other miracles—the people could not keep silent.
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Posted by: kcl -
Jun. 30, 2021 11:27 PM ET USA
"... the Lord is a dynamo, generating ever more power." Great choice of words! In the original Greek text, the word translated either as "power" or "virtue" is "dynamin" (accusative case of "dynamis"), which translates quite directly to English as "power". St. Jerome interestingly chose "virtutem" (acc. of "virtus"), rather than "potestatem" (acc. of "potestas"), as the Latin rendering, suggesting, I propose, a power that is not abstract, but personal ("vir" = "man").
Posted by: niggleleaf6796 -
Jun. 30, 2021 8:45 PM ET USA
Asking for silence is also a way of recommending prayerful meditation. Think of Peter, after the Transfiguration, blurting out (as he often did) that maybe they should build booths. I think of times when I've finished a book or seen a film before friends... the time when I cannot speak is time given to more fully appreciate what I've experienced
Posted by: feedback -
Jun. 28, 2021 11:22 PM ET USA
The Lord's requests for silence must have puzzled the Apostles. But those requests are part of the Gospels along with the miracles. Perhaps the Lord wanted something more profound - a lasting conversion of a loving and believing heart - rather than the people's quick euphoric reaction? He did teach, "No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light," and "Let your light shine before others..."