Secrecy was almost non-existent in the life of the average person of Jesus’ time and culture because of the ordinary living arrangements of these people. All the male children of the family lived in one part of the house of their father or eldest brother. Their wives and underage children lived in another section of the house. Once a boy reached the age of puberty, he left the women’s section and moved in with the other males.
Smaller children were used by their parents to carry messages from section of the house to another. Of course this was also a tactic that was employed by both the men and the women to “spy” on each other. The children would readily carry tales between the men and women. This effectively eliminated the prospect or possibility of keeping a secret from the other members of one’s family. Moments of intimacy between husband and wife were done in a semi-public arena, and no one thought this odd or strange as intercourse between husband and wife was considered a normal part of daily life.
Secrecy or privacy was, therefore, always a cause for suspicion. If one conducted business in secret, the rest of the family or the community simply assumed that something underhanded was going on. Consequently, commerce and ordinary communication between different parties was usually a matter of the public forum.
If we read today’s Gospel reading with this kind of understanding of the culture and living situation, Jesus’ words have far more force. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops (Luke 12:2-3). If we apply this to our own times and our own culture which is far more secretive and which claims privacy as a constitutional right, we must remember that Jesus’ words are directed toward the moments in our lives which involve duplicity and shady behavior. He is not speaking about the normal private moments of our lives.
In our own culture which is filled with investigative journalists whose very job is to uncover secrets, it is important to realize that even those things that we think we can cover up and hide from human investigation will always be known by God. This is precisely why we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. When we reveal our sins to another human being, we are removing them from the dark and shadowed areas of our lives and exposing them to the light that is God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator