Christ asks of us a certain silence
We are surprised by Jesus’ strong insistence to Jairus that he not tell anyone about his daughter’s recovery. The miracle is surely a persuasive sign of Jesus’ power and goodness. Shouldn’t everyone who hears of it have their faith strengthened? Some people were scornful of Jesus at the time: their laughter must have been silenced by the miracle: isn’t it good to confound those who scoff at faith? The calling back to life of the little girl is a sign of Jesus’ divine authority: isn’t it important to have good evidence of this and to share it as widely as possible? Jairus, as a synagogue official, is precisely that sort of bearer of testimony in favour of Christ who could win over many in Israel and perhaps others too, impressed by his respectability and trustworthiness. Furthermore, persuasion apart, Jairus and his family and their many friends were delighted by the miracle: isn’t Jesus being a bit of a killjoy by trying to inhibit them from sharing their joy and relief with others? There is a hint in the Gospel that it was only Jairus’s daughter’s young age that excused her running about so happily as soon as Jesus revived her. If she had been a little older perhaps she too would have received a reproachful reminder about discretion! The miracle is to be a secret. Jesus even seems inclined to make light of His intervention and to suggest that it was scarcely needed. The child was not dead but asleep. The Lord would have preferred there to be no talk of a miraculous rescue from death.
Why? Traditionally we interpret the command to keep silent as a kind of controlling of the story. Jesus’ miracles will be best understood, in due course, in the light of His own Resurrection and His return to His Father. Jairus, good person that he is, is not ready to understand that it is God Who has raised from the dead his daughter. The Lord has the power to perform miracles and sometimes does so. However, He has not come into the world as a wonderworker but rather as the Saviour offering a salvation which needs the acceptance of authentic faith. This acceptance is always more than the excited acclamation of a miracle.
If Jesus seriously expected the beneficiaries of miracles to remain quiet, He was disappointed. In this case, as in all the others where He made the same request, the Scriptures tells us that people paid no attention to his request for discretion. Indeed Jesus’ insistence on silence seems to have been a kind of goad to disobedience. The grateful beneficiaries could not believe they were not helping by talking. The more the Lord urged keeping quiet, the more people broadcast the news of his miracles. If He had been a crafty publicity agent, we might almost have suspected that his plea for silence was only a ploy to generate more interest and talk. Publicists used to hope that the censors in Massachusetts would disapprove of the films and books they hoped to sell. ‘Banned in Boston’ was a promise of box-office success. Did the Lord think that His having urged silence about them would increase faith in His miracles?
At any rate, Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to ask of us a certain silence and discretion about His dealings with us. He clearly hopes that we will be effective evangelists and good at living and sharing our faith in a way which draws others to believe in Him. Part of good evangelisation is a not saying everything right at the beginning. This reticence is partly to do with not mistaking how God has dealt with us personally as the key to whole of salvation. The drama of our life, including our spiritual life, is very important to us, but it might not be so significant for someone else embarking on the adventure of faith. Jesus Christ is to be the subject about which we speak. Only Jesus’ Resurrection explains salvation to everyone else. Our need of Him may be very great. Our tears may be copious. The commotion in our life may be unmistakable. What others need to hear, however, is not so much about our conversion as about the One to whom we have been converted. We may well have a personal experience of Him but that prayer, that insight, that impulse towards charity may not be the pattern for everyone else. When we speak what Jesus wants us to say, our words will be about Him and not about ourselves.
The faith we share is what we have personally accepted of what God has revealed to everyone, but not precisely the details of our own pilgrimage towards that acceptance. We may long for divine intervention in our affairs, and some suffering may, like the death of Jairus’s daughter, cry out for a miracle. It can seem to us absolutely incontrovertible that a certain person dear to us, or about whose seemingly unnecessary sufferings we have heard, should not die, or at least not die at this moment. The Resurrection of Christ and the accomplishment of His whole project to rescue the world from sin and from the effects of sin does not immediately save everyone from pain and death. Jesus has come into the world to show us how to submit to the will of God. There are many just struggles to improve the world, upon which we might engage with God’s blessing. There is also much trouble to be endured before the final judgement on everything. The distribution of suffering can seem very unfair. Jesus teaches us that salvation often communicates itself through pain and trouble. The exact manner of that communication is very variable and not always readily understood. Tact, reticence, silence and discretion impose themselves on miracles and the absence of miracles alike.
The Gospels report that Jesus performed many miracles out of compassion and out of respect for what concerned his contemporaries and neighbours. God has always intervened in our affairs in this way for His own good purposes. The age of miracles is not over. We continue to offer many sincere prayers expressed in faith, in hope and in love. However, there also continues to be a discretion required of us about what happens. Our prayers that things should be different are expressed tentatively and with great caution. The Lord’s work is to renew everything and to bring it back to God, and the Resurrection abolishes sin and death, though how precisely these abolitions impact on our particular lives remains fully to be revealed. Our many misunderstandings and the bafflement of many searchers after truth need a profound silence in which the Holy Spirit can gradually explain things.
Jesus Christ is summoning all of us to new life. We are to awaken from the death-like slumber which has made God seem so far from us and our concerns. Jesus’ renewal of everything is certainly part of what we want very freely to share with any inquirer about the faith or to any newcomer learning it. This new life, and our growing appreciation of it, however, emerge from a grave-like silence and not from the hubbub of excited enthusiasm for miracles. This silence is the discretion of penitent hearts, which acknowledge that Jesus is rescuing us above all from sin. This silence is the discretion of people gradually, through the sacraments and prayer, drawn into closeness with God, which confers on us a freedom to say exactly the right thing to whoever needs to hear of His grace and blessings. This silence is also the discretion of that grateful community of faith which sees the world now in a completely different way. Even the Church, assisted by God as she surely is, and confident in her knowledge of Him, does not insist that straightaway everyone in the whole world sees things as they truly are. Some discoveries they must make for themselves. Jesus’ own strict instructions to Jairus, ‘do not tell anyone that your daughter has been restored to life’ are an emblem of the comparable discretion which He requests of us. God is only slowly making Himself understood. The freedom of each person to accept or reject faith is respected.
We express, as best we can, our heartfelt gratitude for the wonders which God has done for us. We do so aware that not everyone has experienced a miracle. As carefully as we can, we share our faith in Christ in such a way as to bring others to choose to listen to Him with the same attention as we endeavour to exercise ourselves. Our desire to share our faith arises from all sorts of important experiences we have had. Our sharing, however, is about our faith in Jesus and not about ourselves and our experiences. The listeners will catch the authentic note in what we say but they will be most struck by the content: the teaching of Jesus; His abiding presence in the world; His promises about the Kingdom of God.
Peter Gallagher SJ