An old priest friend of mine once said about his morning prayer time, “The dew falls heaviest in the morning.” Jesus knew that getting up early to pray was imperative for his continued communion with the Father. His prayer practice teaches us the importance of solitude in prayer. He need to pray in community, but we also need to get alone with God.
As we meet Jesus in the gospel we will see a fully rounded and complete human person. Every aspect of humanity is present in his life. Here we see the strength of the introvert. This is the monastic Jesus. “Monasticism” comes from the word “monos” which means alone. Here Jesus leaves everyone else to spend time alone with God. Do you follow his pattern? Your prayer life will not grow unless you do.
Jesus’ time alone with God points back to the Old Testament. We are familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled in Jesus’ life. The evangelists quote Old Testament passages showing how they are fulfilled. This is, however, only scraping the surface. Jesus fulfills the Old Testament in every breath he takes, every action he does, every word he speaks. It is not just that certain details of his life and birth fulfill Old Testament prophecies as if a soothsayer’s words are being fulfilled. Instead he IS the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
So when he goes into the desert places to be alone with God we hearken back to Moses alone in the desert of Sinai where he first experiences God’s voice in the burning bush and later at Sinai receives the law from God. We also remember Elijah at Horeb (which was in the region of Sinai) sitting in his cave fasting and finally hearing the still small voice of God. When Jesus goes into the desert places to pray he is gathering up those moments of Hebrew history and fulfilling them. He is not only re-living those Sinai moments, but our theology teaches us that he IS the meeting place of God and Man. His voice is the voice of God. He is the law giver and the fulfillment of the law.
Then after his introvert time Jesus exhibits the other wonderful side of human nature–the extrovert. The disciples come to find him, clearly full of excitement about the mission they are sharing. He gets up and gets on with his work–meeting people, being with people, listening, healing and forgiving. Once again we feel with great force Jesus as a man of action. Mark’s language is spare and sudden. Jesus is back into battle as an itinerant preacher–encountering evil and casting out demons.
A reader has asked “Were there more demons back then to be cast out?” Yes! The world was locked into demon worship. The pagan religions were methods for demons to infest people. Christ had not yet come to take the world back from Satan. We must imagine a world with no baptism, no sacraments, no light of the gospel, no victory over evil. We have lived in a world where the light of Christ has spread and Satan’s territory has been conquered. It was not so back then.
Now we read a healing story. A leper comes and asks to be healed. For us leprosy is identified as Hansen’s disease–a specify malady. For the Jews leprosy was the name for any kind of skin disease. The Old Testament laid down particular methods of diagnosis and treatment. When a person was healed he was to present himself to the priest for ritual cleansing.
There are many details in the story which are significant. First of all, leprosy was a symbol of sin. Hansen’s disease is a disease of the nervous system. The nerve endings of the extremities become numb. Then gangrene sets in. The deadness and rot of sin festers in the soul. As Jesus heals him the forgiveness of sin is assumed.
As Jesus heals him he is performing the role of Old Testament priest. The priest was the one to diagnose leprosy and acknowledge its healing. At the same time, while telling the man to present himself to the priest Jesus conforms his will to the existing religious system. He has come to fulfill the law, but not to abolish it.
When Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone we are presented again with evidence of what the scholars call “the Messianic Secret”. Why was the man not to tell anyone? For several reasons: first he was to obey the law and go to the priest, second was practical–the crowds were already overwhelming and Jesus needed to keep the lid on things. Thirdly, Jesus was humble and therefore rightly wary of the celebrity culture. He didn’t want the people to be treating him as a freak show, a circus or a traveling magic show. Fourthly, already Jesus is probably aware that he has enemies. Not only is he battling Satan, but the storm clouds are gathering. He knows his teaching and his miracles are not meeting with universal approval, and to complete his mission he needs to keep a low profile.
Finally, Jesus keeping hidden is a theological statement about who he is and what his mission is. Jesus is the second person of the Most Holy Trinity hidden in the form of an ordinary human being. He is supposed to be hidden in the world. That’s his identity and his mission. His role is not to appear in power and great glory, but to remain small and to follow the little way. If he were to become a worldwide wonder his cover would be blown. His call is to be small.