WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?

JESUS’ IDENTITY AND MESSIANIC SECRET
INTRODUCTION
Who is Jesus for me, today? This is the question we all should ask ourselves before we begin our lesson. Our answers, for sure, will not be same (reflect for 5 minutes). I hope at the end of our class we have a better image of Jesus in our minds and hearts. Now, we are going to find out the true identity of Jesus for Mark and for the Christian community of Rome. Mark himself, at the beginning of the gospel, tells us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1:1). However, we will not know the true meaning of that expression until the end of the gospel. Therefore, if we want to discover who Jesus really is, we must begin a journey with him, follow him step by step, and at the end of this journey we will have the proper answer.

1. WHAT IS “NEW” ABOUT JESUS’ ACTIVITY?
There is no doubt that Jesus’ public activity attracted the attention of all the sectors of Israel’s society. But, what was “new or original” about it? a. Jesus performs miracles: Mark included 17 miracles in his gospel: 12 miracles happened in Jewish territory (11 in Galilee and 1 in Judah) and 5 in gentile territory. - Healings: 1:29-31; 1:40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:25-34; 7:3137; 8:22-26; 10:46-52. - Exorcisms: 1:21-28; Mk 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29. - Resurrections: 5:21-43. - Nature: 4:35-41; 6:30-44; 6:45-52; 8:1-9. b. Jesus teaches something “new” with authority (1:27): He teaches something they have never heard before; something that he could not learn on books, but revealed by God to him: The mystery of the Kingdom of God (Mk 4). c. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them (2:15-17): these people were considered impure or unclean because of their bad life style and therefore excluded from their society. No second chance for them. Jesus mixes with them, listens to them, and offers them another chance to transform their life style.

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d. Jesus forgives sins (2:1-12): Jesus brings God’s forgiveness to people in need. The religious authorities believed instead that only God could forgive sins, consequently Jesus is blaspheming for putting himself at the same level of God. e. Jesus chose 12 apostles among his many disciples: In Israel normally the disciples chose their teachers, but in the case of Jesus, he is the one electing his closest companions and collaborators in his mission. They will not study the Law (Torah) and their traditions, but they will learn from the teachings of Jesus and put them into practice in their daily lives. f. Jesus and his disciples do not fast (2:18-22): All the respected groups (Essenes, Pharisees…) and individual holy men (John the Baptist) used to fast often and live an ascetic life in order to show everyone that they were closely connected to God. Instead, Jesus and his disciples eat, drink, and enjoy a nice and comfortable life… he does not fit the profile of a holy man or messenger from God. g. Jesus and his disciples do not keep holy the Sabbath day: He does many activities that are forbidden by the law on that day: healing the sick and plucking grain. Jesus redefines the meaning of the Sabbath day: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of Man is even lord of the Sabbath” (2:27-28). h. Jesus cleanses the Temple of merchants, sellers, and money changers, and says, “My house should be called a house of prayer for all peoples, but you have made it a bandit’s den” (11:15-19). Jesus does not like mixing business with true religion.

2. WHAT QUESTIONS DID JESUS’ ACTIVITY PROVOKE AMONG THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL?
a. What is this? Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him (1:27): Reaction of the crowds after seeing the exorcism of man in the synagogue.

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b. How can this man talk like that? He is being blasphemous. Who but God can forgive sins? (2:7): Reaction of the scribes after Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. c. Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him (4:41): Reaction of the disciples after Jesus calmed the storm at the Sea of Galilee. d. Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us? And they would not accept him (6:2-3): Reaction of the people from Nazareth after listening to Jesus’ teachings in the synagogue and remembering all the miracles he had done elsewhere. In the second part of the gospel we find other questions about Jesus’ identity and these are the most important ones: a. Jesus asks his disciples a question: Who do people say I am? After showing Jesus people’s opinion about his identity, he asked them another question: Who do you say I am? Peter, as the spokesman of the disciples, gave Jesus a straight answer (see 8:27-30). b. During Jesus trial, the High Priest (chief of the Sanhedrin) asked Jesus about his identity as a perfect proof to condemn and put him to death: Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? Jesus said, “I am” (14:61-62). It is only in this passage where Jesus recognizes to be the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. And this is why he was crucified. In order to understand the identity of Jesus, Mark places a number of questions that require some answers from the characters of the gospel. The purpose of these questions is to show how amazing Jesus’ words and actions are and, at the same time, provoke a quick answer regarding his identity. Let’s see what the characters of the gospel have to say about Jesus’ identity.

3. WHAT DO THE MAIN CHARACTERS OF THE GOSPEL SAY ABOUT JESUS’ IDENTITY?
The gospel of Mark is filled with answers about Jesus’ identity. Some of the answers are explicit (like Peter’s); some others are only seen

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through the attitude of some characters towards Jesus (like the Pharisees trying to kill him). Among the answers, some are true, some are false, and some are ambiguous or partially correct. With this strategy, Mark teaches his readers the importance of reflecting about all the answers given and to choose the correct one. Let’s check what the characters of the gospel have to say: a. MARK, THE EVANGELIST: He offers an answer at the beginning of the gospel: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). This is the true identity of Jesus. The reader knows it from the beginning and it guides him to understand the rest of the gospel. However, the reader must follow the same steps of Jesus during his journey if he wants to recognize him as Son of God at the feet of the cross. b. GOD (voice from heaven/voice from the clouds): God answers in the story of the baptism of Jesus (1:9-11) and his transfiguration (9:2-13). In both cases, there are only a few witnesses: John the Baptist during the baptism and three disciples (Peter, James, and John) during the transfiguration. God’s answer reveals the true identity of Jesus: “You are my Beloved Son” (1:11; 9:7). c. THE UNCLEAN SPIRITS OR DEMONS: The demons also know the true identity of Jesus: 1) The Holy One of God (1:24); 2) The Son of God (3:11); 3) Son of the Most High God (5:7). However, Jesus orders them to keep quiet and not to reveal his identity. Why? Because they are not reliable witnesses (they lie and deceive everyone) and they want Jesus to show himself as the powerful Son of God. d. THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES OF ISRAEL (PHARISEES, SCRIBES…): “Beelzebul is in Jesus and it is through the prince of devils that he drives devils out” (3:22). Jesus is possessed by the devil and all his miracles come from the devil’s power. Why? Basically because he does not keep the law and does not follow the traditions of their ancestors. Therefore, these religious and political groups join forces together and plot to kill Jesus (3:6). As the gospel moves on, they do not change their mind (12:12); on the contrary, they will succeed in making Jesus suffer and die on the cross (Mk 14-15). e. PETER (SPOKESMAN OF THE DISCIPLES): “You are the Christ” (8:29). Peter expresses what the disciples think about Jesus’ identity. At first sight, the answer seems valid or 4

correct, but if we keep reading we realized that Peter does not understand Jesus’ identity completely (8:32-33). There is a key element he is missing or unwilling to accept: Jesus is the Christ who must suffer, die, and rise after three days (8:31). f. THE CROWDS: The people in general have also their own opinion about Jesus’ identity (see 6:14-15; 8:28): 1) the risen John the Baptist; 2) A prophet like those of the Old Testament (Elijah). In the second part of the gospel, the people call him “son of David” (10:46-52; 11:10), but Jesus rejects this answer (12:35-37). g. JESUS: During his trial, Jesus answered a question of the High Priest regarding his identity: Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? Jesus said, “I am” (14:61-62). The first public and opened confession of his true identity gives light to the process that will conclude with his death on the cross. Other confessions of his true identity are closely connected with his destiny of suffering and death: the Father at the transfiguration and the Roman Centurion at the feet of the cross. h. THE ROMAN CENTURION: His testimony at the moment of Jesus’ death should be the final statement or expression of faith of all the disciples of Jesus who read the gospel: “In truth this man was Son of God” (15:39). In conclusion, we can say that not all the answers are correct; some are wrong, false or ambiguous, and Jesus rejects them. Out of seven, only the answers of God, Jesus, Mark, and the Roman centurion are correct. According to these answers, there is no doubt that Jesus’ identity is closely related to his death.

4. WHAT IS THE “MESSIANIC SECRET”?
In Mark, there is a curious and surprising fact that strikes our attention: as we know already, the purpose of the gospel is to reveal the true identity of Jesus, Messiah and Son of God; however, Jesus orders those who call him Messiah or Son of God to keep quiet and be silent. There are several examples of this: a. Unclean spirits/demons: - The cure of a demoniac (1:25): Jesus said, “Be quiet! Come out of him! - Summary of healings (1:34): “he (Jesus) would not allow them to speak, because they know who he was”. 5

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The mercy of Jesus (3:12): “He (Jesus) warned them strongly not to make him known”.

b. Healed people: - To the leper (1:44): “Mind you tell no one anything”. - To Jairus’ family (5:43): “He (Jesus) gave then strict orders not to let anyone know about it” (the resurrection of the daughter). - To the deaf-mute (7:36): “Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it” (after the healing). c. The disciples: - After Peter’s confession (8:30): “He (Jesus) gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him”. - After the transfiguration (9:9): “He (Jesus) warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of man had risen from the dead”. What is the meaning of this contradiction? Why does Jesus insist in telling these people to keep silent and not to reveal his true identity? This is a topic that has attracted the attention of many readers and experts have tried to explain this phenomenon, called the “messianic secret”, in many different ways. I believe that the best explanation is this: it is a literary strategy used by Mark to reveal gradually the true identity of Jesus. Mark wants to avoid misunderstandings. The motif of the messianic secret appears mostly in the first part of the gospel (6 times) and at the beginning of the second part (2 times). In the first part, Mark focuses on revealing that Jesus is the expected Messiah announced by the prophets; in the second, he reveals that this Messiah has to suffer and die on the cross in order to fulfill his mission. Mark reveals Jesus’ identity stage by stage; it is a long process that takes time and effort. In the first part of the gospel, Jesus orders to keep silent for three reasons: a. In the healings: because they are just partial manifestations of the Kingdom of God; b. To the unclean spirits: because they have no place in the Kingdom. They are the adversaries of God (lie and deceive); they are not reliable witnesses. c. Generally speaking: because all the ideas that people may have about Jesus’ identity are ambiguous or incorrect until he himself reveals his destiny as Messiah. However, despite this motif of the “messianic secret”, there is also a clear revelation 6

of Jesus’ identity in Mark 1:1 and 1:11 (the baptism). Jesus’ public activity in Galilee (teachings and miracles) is also a hint to understand, at least partially, his identity. Peter’s confession of the identity of Jesus as the “Christ” is the climax of the first part of the gospel and clears the way for the second part. At this point, Peter rejects the idea of a suffering Messiah who also dies on the cross. That is why Jesus will concentrate his energy on the disciples to make sure that they get his identity right. He is on his way to Jerusalem not to be crown king, but to die for all the people: his way is the way of service, fraternity, commitment, and sacrifice. Jesus is not a triumphant Messiah, but a suffering one. That is why the words of the Roman centurion at the feet of the cross must be the words of all the true disciples of Jesus: Jesus is Messiah on the cross. We discover gradually the true identity of Jesus in the gospel: 1) Hidden revelation (1:1-8:26); 2) Open revelation (8:27-10:52); 3) Manifestation (11:1-16:8). All this process will lead us to accept a certain type of Messiah and to reject another type. Some the titles of Jesus in the gospel will gain weight and others will disappear as the story progresses. Let’s see the most important titles of Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

5. WHAT ARE THE MAIN TITLES OF JESUS IN MARK?
There are two titles used by Mark to describe the true identity of Jesus: Christ and Son of God (1:1). They will appear in two strategic places of the gospel as well: Peter’s confession (Christ; 8:29) and the Roman centurion’s confession at the feet of the cross (Son of God; 15:39). 5.1. JESUS, THE CHRIST (THE MESSIAH) The word “Christ” comes from the Hebrew term “massiah” which means “the anointed one”. Mark translates it with the Greek word “christos”. In the Old Testament, priests, prophets, and kings were anointed. Therefore, the future Messiah, that God promised to send to lead and guide his people, should belong to one of those groups. At Jesus’ time, most of the people believed the Messiah would be a powerful king capable of defeating the Roman army and establishing a kingdom of peace, justice, and prosperity. The people of Israel, after seeing Jesus’ activity (miracles and teachings), thought that he could be the Messiah/king they were waiting for (that is why they called him “Son of David” (10:47-48; 11:97

10; 12:35) or “King of the Jews” (15:2.9.12.18.26)). This is the kind of Messiah Peter and the disciples have in mind when Jesus asked them the question “who do you say I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (8:29). We know this because Peter refuses to accept the idea of the Messiah that Jesus is proposing them: a Messiah that suffers, dies on the cross, and rises on the third day (8:31-33). Jesus wants to keep his true identity secret until the right time comes in order to avoid misunderstandings: He will not be a powerful king, but a suffering Messiah. This is the true identity of Jesus and can only be fully understood at the feet of the cross, at the moment of his death, like the Roman centurion did: “in truth this man was Son of God” (15:39). 5.2. JESUS, THE SON OF GOD In the Old Testament, the title “Son of God” is applied to Israel as God’s people (Hosea 11:1), the King at his coronation (Psalm 2:7), the angels (Job 38:7), and the suffering of the righteous person (Wisdom 2:18). In Mark’s Gospel, “Son of God” is a very prominent title for Jesus. Mark uses it to clarify the ideas about the “Messiah”. It appears in some of the most important moments of Jesus’ life: 1) at baptism (1:11); 2) the unclean spirits reveal his identity (1:24; 3:11; 5:7); 3) at the transfiguration (9:7); 4) during Jesus’ trial (14:61-62); 5) The Roman centurion’s confession (15:39). From this perspective, we can only recognize Jesus as the Son of God at the moment of his death on the cross and after the resurrection. All the events in Jesus’ life lead to this final moment: we must see Jesus as the Son of God on the cross. What does the expression “Jesus is the Son of God” mean? Jesus is not just a messenger from God or a prophet; he is God’s beloved Son. God did not send a messenger to the world to proclaim a message of salvation, but he sent his only son to spread the good news of his kingdom and teach us the way back to heaven. God and Jesus, like father and son, enjoy a deep and special relationship (divine filiation). He says and does the same things that God says and does. As a good son, Jesus not only preaches, calls disciples, and heals sick people, but he also obeys and fulfills God’s plan by going to Jerusalem, suffering, and dying for the sins of people. However, there is a happy ending for the story: God will raise him from the dead and the disciples will see him in Galilee (16:7).

EXCURSUS: JESUS, THE SON OF MAN

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In Mark’s gospel, Jesus often calls himself “the Son of man” (Mk 2:10.28; 8:31.38; 9:9.12.31; 10:33.45; 13:26; 14:21.41.62). Only Jesus uses this expression; the characters of the gospel never call him by this title and it does not reveal anything about Jesus’ identity. What is the purpose of this expression in Mark’s gospel? For Mark, Jesus is the man who possesses the Holy Spirit and acts with God’s authority; he will be rejected by Israel and the gentiles, but God will save him through the resurrection.

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