Although his Gospel account is considerably briefer than the narratives of his fellow evangelists, St. Mark goes into great detail relating the humiliation that Jesus Christ experienced before Pontius Pilate, before the envious high priests, before the jeering street crowds, and at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Pilate certainly insulted Jesus by preferring the criminal Barabbas over the preacher and healer facing him. The chief priests slighted Jesus by delivering him up out of envy. The agitated crowds affronted Jesus by their cries for crucifixion. And the Roman troops clearly mocked Jesus by decorating him with royal trappings even as they struck and spit at him. The shame that initiated Jesus’ trip to Calvary was exceeded only by Jesus’ agonizing and tragic death on the cross itself, humiliated in public view and challenged in his soul.
The misery brought upon Jesus by Pilate and his henchmen and by the religious leaders and their angry crowds stands in deliberate and considerable contrast to the profession of faith uttered by the centurion at the foot of the cross during Jesus’ final moments. St. Mark records: “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Some commentators understand these compassionate words to be the culmination of St. Mark’s whole gospel. St. Mark had begun his Gospel account with the phrase “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” So at the beginning and at the end of his account, St. Mark insists that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God.
Some could argue that these happy declarations about Jesus’ divinity as the Son of God are not as conclusive as true believers would like to assert. Some ancient manuscripts omit the words “Son of God” from St. Mark’s opening phrases. Yet most commentators and possibly all modern Bibles from the King James Version to New American Bible agree that St. Mark commenced his presentation of the Good News labelling Jesus as the Son of God, a clear reference to Christ’s Divinity. To muddy the waters just a bit more, some modern translations (e.g., The Jerusalem Bible) have the centurion assert simply that Jesus was “God’s son” rather than “the Son of God.” To be called God’s son is a fine tribute but it is hardly the bold profession of faith in the divinity of Christ so vital to Christianity. “God’s son” is a bit too generic. It could apply to a lot of good people. Those few who favor “God’s son” over “the Son of God” do have some foundation for their preference. Greek has no definite article; there is no word for “the” in Greek. The Greek simply reads, “This man was son of God.” No “the” to be found. So what is the modern believing Catholic to conclude?
Well there are two even more authoritative references to Christ’s Divinity in St. Mark’s Gospel account that, joined to these sometimes debated allusions, confirm the perennial Christian belief that in Jesus Christ believers have indeed encountered the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. At the baptism of Christ by St. John along the banks of the Jordan, no less than a voice from the heavens declares: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (1:11).” And again, at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, the evangelist records (9:7), “Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” So if St. Mark’s introductory words might be shaky and the centurion’s tribute might provoke discussion, there is no debating an announcement from God Himself. The Word did indeed become flesh and certainly did dwell among us, as St. John the Evangelist boasted in his Gospel account. The Divinity of Mary’s son and the Apostles’ teacher and the Church’s founder must be accepted beyond question.
St. Mark’s four deliberate references to Christ’s Divine Sonship were not just casual turns of phrase. St. Mark’s written word presents the living faith of the early Christian community that in Christ the first believers had indeed encountered God himself. St. Mark was reporting the already forty or fifty year old belief that Christ was truly Divine. St. Mark’s Gospel account did not initiate belief in Christ as Son of God, rather his words affirmed and strengthened the basic conviction that in Christ humanity had met God. Every Sunday, worshippers affirm this same belief through the solemn words of the Creed: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.” This Sunday all should affirm this belief even more boldly!