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Truly, This Man Was the Son Of God

One of the strangest lines in the Gospels is uttered by the centurion at the foot of the Cross. In Mark, we are told that when he saw that Jesus had “breathed his last,” he said: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)

One would have thought this was the last thing a person would say after seeing a man die.  Everyone knows that the one thing gods don’t do is die.  Thus, it would have made more sense if, the moment the centurion saw Jesus die, he had said: “Well, clearly that guy wasn’t a god.”

Had Jesus shot fifty feet up in the air and shot laser beams out of his eyes, then we might imagine the centurion saying, “Uh oh, that was the son of God.” After which, he might have run for cover, reasoning that the man, now so revealed, would not be entirely pleased with those who treated him so badly — what with the whole spitting, taunting, scourging, crowning with thorns, and nailing him to the Cross business.

But Christ didn’t shoot fifty feet in the air and shoot laser beams out of his eyes.  That’s comic book stuff.  No, He died: something “gods” are never supposed to do.  And yet it was at that moment the centurion said: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

We have to imagine that Mark included this odd story in his Gospel, well, first, because it happened. It would be a strange thing to include it if it hadn’t, since most readers would be inclined to conclude, as I did, that it made little sense for a down-to-earth Roman soldier to conclude from a man’s death that He was “the son of God.”

But second, Mark likely included the story because it represented something important about the faith of the early Church. The apostles weren’t proclaiming the divinity of Christ in spite of His death on the Cross, but because of it. They weren’t hiding the fact of Christ’s death; rather, they were proclaiming that, contrary to what anyone would imagine, His death on the Cross was the decisive revelation of his divinity and His role as our divine Redeemer.

This is so strange; it really should give us pause. A God who dies?  What kind of God is that?  Either a powerless one, or a really, really devoted one.  But if He is that devoted, and if He can undergo death – not avoid it, not pretend it, but really undergo it – and still beat it, then He has fundamentally altered our entire idea of what it means to be “powerful.”  A power so great that it transcends even death, but then submits itself to death?  A God who reveals Himself as a servant?  We don’t sacrifice to Him; He sacrifices Himself for us?  It bursts all our categories.

Read more at The Catholic Thing 

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