The theme of my sermon today is concealment. Is concealment wise or unwise?
Does it bear fruit or is it destructive?
In today’s Gospel reading we learn from the words of Jesus to his disciples that he does not want them to tell anyone that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He praises Simon Peter for saying that he is the Messiah as it has been revealed to Peter by God, but the Gospel concludes with a stern order from Jesus to his disciples not to reveal this title to anyone.
This concealment of his identity is wise because Jesus, at this particular time, is undertaking his earthly ministry, and only when he has been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven can the word be spread that he is the Son of the living God. Until that time Jesus does not want to apply the title of Messiah to himself because of the implication of an earthly, rather than heavenly kingdom. Implication, because in popular Jewish opinion the one through whom God would restore the Kingdom of David would be a king triumphant who would not suffer. Jesus, in this instance, is accepting concealment as necessary in the fulfillment of God’s divine purpose, which takes us on a journey in stages from Creation to the Book of Revelation when we are given the vision of the new Jerusalem.
Setting aside this particular concealment, Jesus runs heavily in the opposite direction when referring to the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees, who distrust him, resent him, and have malicious intent against him, are condemned outright by Jesus, throughout Matthew’s Gospel, for concealing their true intention to bring him down and eventually kill him. This concealment is unwise because it hides murderous intent. It involves saying one thing whilst meaning another. We can find an example of this concealment in Matthew chapter 22 when the Pharisees, whilst plotting to entrap him, say to Jesus: ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth..’. Jesus retaliates with ‘why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? He sees right through them.
In his earlier chapter 10, Matthew warns the disciples that they will be dragged through the mud before governors and kings but they must not fear because nothing can be concealed from God. As it is given: ‘for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. God sees all, even a sparrow that has fallen to the ground. So you cannot get away with unwise concealment.
In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus denounces the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their placing of heavy burdens on others and doing nothing themselves. He accuses them of locking people out of the kingdom of heaven because they cannot get in themselves. All this is concealed by appearances; taking the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues. Appearing righteous but inside full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. All very unwise.
The Jewish leaders, then, come under heavy fire in Matthew’s Gospel for unwise concealment and this attack on their behavior can also be found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. Concealment does not get a good press in the Bible.
Yet there may be times when concealment could be deemed to be wise. You might want to protect a child from the full knowledge of a traumatic episode. You might also want to protect a vulnerable elderly person from bad news. Where concealment becomes, as Shakespeare wrote ‘like a worm in the bud’ is when it is there to cover up ill intentions and malpractice.
Sometimes, in our history, there have been attempts made to conceal dark periods by pushing them underground in a frenzy of merriment. I think here of the dance floors of the 1920s under which lay the horrors of the first war. This was understandable concealment generated by fear, but I believe it is better to acknowledge that those bad times happened and let time and tide ease the pain.
Probably, at some stage in our lives, we have all wanted to hide something from others. One of the most popular children’s games is hide and seek. There is the excitement of being in a hiding place, provided it is not prompted by fear, but to cover up wrongdoing can generate a succession of problems, sometimes for generations to come. Let us not go down that path if we can avoid it. Let us instead be guided by God towards an open minded and honest society for the benefit of all.