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Why Jesus Kept Secrets

The Lord taught only his disciples directly because the devil knows how to distort truth—and our consciences

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

-Mark 4:26-34

Our Savior gave us a teaching that he commanded to be told to the whole world. Even so, the Gospels give us a number of places where it appears that he teaches his true meaning in secret, when he drew apart with his disciples. To the others he spoke in parables, and did not reveal his full meaning. Why is this? Why would the teaching of Jesus be kept secret?

The answer will tell us a lot about the nature of good and evil.

“You are only as sick as your secrets.” This saying is a widespread one in therapeutic circles. If we are having serious problems in the conduct of our life, then we need to discuss these with another person or persons to get the help we need. The sacrament of penance is the most extreme example of this kind of necessity. In the confessional, we must confess grave sins that we would otherwise not be required to tell anyone else ever—and which the priest must keep secret.

This is just to point out that there is nothing so secret that it need not be told at least to one person, at least under the right circumstances. “Confession is good for the soul,” and in confession we speak in secret.

In human experience, secrets are usually related to evils, either hiding or avoiding them. If we go back all the way to the garden of Eden, we perceive that the knowledge of evil was a forbidden thing. God hid from our first parents the possibility and the effects of grave sin, that is, of evil in the strict sense. Evil was a secret our first parents were never meant to fathom. But they fell, and so their instinctive reaction to evil in themselves was to hide, to cover their secret shame.

We are in a world in which every nature has been declared good—and very good—by its Creator. He is not the source of evil; no nature he has made, even the nature of fallen Man and of the fallen angels is evil in itself. Indeed, his whole creation is a revelation, in nature and grace, of his divine goodness. Evil is so contrary to what he made to be, so obscure and disordered, that it cannot even be compared to what is good. “Who shall understand sins? From my hidden ones acquit me,” says David in Psalm 19 (18).

Sin is simply a nature pretending to be what it is not. Man takes the place of God or prefers his created will to God’s uncreated and loving designs. Sin tries to hide and pretend that it is just another nature found in our world. The solution to this attempted deception of self and others is to confess our sins, that is, to admit, verbally, explicitly what our sins are. The repentant sinner pronounces God’s will in creation to be the only true good, and denounces his error. No excuses (“the woman you put here with me”… “the snake gave it to me to eat”… it’s my civil right… the temptation was too strong… and so on.)

When we confess our secret faults, at the same time we proclaim God’s praise; we admit that his ways are all good and deserving of our love. One and the same action provides both things: the removal of evil, and the revelation of God’s goodness.

This brings us to the reason for Our Lord’s use of a kind of secrecy in proclaiming the truths of revelation. If revelation were a matter simply of showing forth the truth of God’s nature and designs, as on the days of creation in Genesis, then there would be no point of reserving some truths and keeping them secret. But Our Lord came “in the fullness of time” not just to reveal the truth, but to heal our nature wounded by sin so that it might safely and effectively embrace the truth in charity for eternal life. For this there is needed the perfect prudence of the perfect Master.

The devil began immediately to use revelation to undermine it, twisting God’s command in his temptation of Eve. The devil even used inspired Scripture to tempt the Lord Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11). He is always, and even mostly, spreading confusion about the Faith.

Thus it is that Our Lord carefully instructed his apostles but only taught the crowds what they were able to take in, speaking in parables. Christianity does not have one, secret doctrine for the initiates and another, public doctrine for the masses. Rather, it has a hierarchy of teachers and learners, Sacred Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, right worship, sound theology, and examples of holiness so that the whole truth is available to all in several authentic forms. Nothing is ultimately hidden, because it is all good, and indeed very good as in the beginning. Even so, everything should be embraced in due order in line with our spiritual needs and our defects and weaknesses. The Lord said, “Many things I have to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

“Repent and believe the gospel.” It’s all right there, a twofold way: go to confession, humble yourself, get in the habit of confessing, not justifying your quirks and faults, and then study and profess the faith in all its sources so as to believe more truly.

This is the “secret” of the Christian life!


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