‘Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!’

Father John A. Kiley

The Christmas season offers many depictions of the infant Jesus nestled at his mother’s breast, dozing in his straw bedding, gazed upon by humble shepherds and splendid kings. The seasons of Easter and Ascension propose mighty representations of Jesus Christ triumphant in body, aglow with the Spirit, splendidly supported by a heavenly backdrop. Yet, the enduring symbol of Jesus Christ at any season and in any century has been the crucified Savior, hands and feet pierced with nails, ribs slashed with the lance, head bowed with a bloody crown of thorns, the body ashen with death. Earlier Christian centuries added gilt edges to the Cross and networks of gems figured in the background, but it was still the Crucified Christ that was central to Christian devotion. The Middle Ages favored a gruesome depicture of the Crucified Lord, a convention largely continued to the present day. It is Jesus the Suffering Servant who greets most believers as they enter their Catholic churches for Mass on Sunday, and as they glance at the wall over their bed as they prepare for the night’s rest and as they reach into their pocket for their faithful Rosary beds. Yes, the Crucified Christ is at the heart of Catholic liturgy, Catholic devotions, any Catholic shrine.
St. Mark, in writing his Gospel account, knew that the miserable final days of Jesus’ life, the Savior’s betrayal, his tragic passion and his cruel death, would forever be the core of the Good News of salvation. Jesus renounced by his chosen 12 disciples, Jesus rejected by the priests, the rabbis, and the crowds in Jerusalem, Jesus insulted by Pilate, mocked by Herod, beaten by Roman troops and left to die on a hillside outside the city would be the heart of the perennial Gospel message. “Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender child, all with bloody scourges rent,” the Stabat Mater would remind Catholics during the forty days of Lent and whenever they might glance at the Stations of the Cross lining their parish churches. Yes, like it or not, Christ as crucified is central to the Gospel message.
Faced with all the evidence of Christ’s seeming weakness and defeat as one considered the Passion account or one pondered the Crucifixion, St. Mark decided that the apparent impotence of Christ crucified had to be countered with demonstrations of Christ’s authentic power, the Savior’s intrinsic muscle. Christ’s power over evil is forcefully and abundantly demonstrated by St. Mark’s 34 (!) references to the Savior’s mastery over demon possession. No one was pulling a fast one on Jesus Christ. Christ was very much in charge throughout his whole life, from Bethlehem to Calvary, and his superiority over the devil and his works is effectively displayed throughout St. Mark’s Gospel narrative.
As this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage proclaims, Jesus’ very first public incident is the rebuke and dismissal of an unclean spirit: “In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. Jesus’ demonstration of power was quite effective. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
St. Mark will continue to let his reader know that Jesus was never weak during his public life, nor was Jesus weak on Calvary. Jesus was not a victim on the Cross. Jesus was a victor on the Cross. Christ clung to his Father’s will in spite of the insults, injuries and injustices that were inflicted on him during those final three days. Golgotha was a demonstration of strength, not impotence. Good Friday was indeed mission accomplished. The Father’s mysterious will was embraced and endured, eagerly and earnestly.
“Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!” Christian choristers have rightly sung throughout the ages! “Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!” This commanding Christ is the Lord that will be revealed to the faithful as the Gospel narrative of St. Mark is proclaimed through this liturgical year. Each victory over Satan and his evil spirits through exorcisms and encounters during St. Mark’s successive chapters are but hints of Christ’s final victory over sin and Satan on Calvary’s mournful hill. The Cross of Christ is rightly treasured by the faithful as the authentic source and enduring symbol of the Christian life.