Epiphany: “an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity”--An Essay for the January Issue of "The Deacon" Newsletter of St. Vincent's Cathedral
But as we reflect on epiphanies this year I would like focus on another crucial manifestation of the Savior’s deity in Holy Scripture (and I do mean “crucial”). It is found in the Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 15:
33 “When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
Most of us do not spend much time thinking about the specific portraits of Christ’s ministry given in each of the four Gospels. But each human author of the New Testament Gospels has a unique perspective on Christ’s ministry. The underlying facts are the same in each of these inerrant books, of course, but the emphases of the four evangelists vary. A characteristic theme stressed by St. Mark, for example, is the centrality of the Cross to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Take a careful look at St. Mark’s account of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Mark tells us about plenty of demons who recognize the divinity of Christ (Mk 1:24; 5:7), and at the mid-point of the story St. Peter recognizes Jesus as “the Christ” (Mk 8:29). But in the second Gospel no mere human being ever clearly hails Jesus as divine until the Roman centurion who crucified him proclaims “Truly this man was the Son of God!” while standing at the foot of Christ’s cross. The evangelists Matthew, Luke, and John all tell us about Jewish witnesses who discerned Jesus’ divinity far earlier in the story, but Mark saves this first human recognition of our Lord’s Godhead until a Gentile soldier “saw in this way he breathed his last” (Mk 15:39). This is, in fact, the reason why St. Mark does not relate the birth of Jesus in the way St. Luke and St. Matthew do. For according to Mark, one must first behold Christ’s humbling of himself to death on the Cross before one can properly understand the Savior’s divinity. In a sense Calvary is the Epiphany of the second Gospel.
For me the greatest beauty of the canon of Holy Scripture is the way the perspectives of its many inspired human authors unite under the sure guidance of God the Holy Spirit to form a single, infallible portrait of God our Savior’s mighty hand at work in history. The witnesses are many, but their witness is ultimately one. E pluribus unum! This is especially true of our Lord Jesus’ Manifestation to the Nations. St. Luke has the humblest of Jews—isolated, outcast, and unclean shepherds—bear witness to the good news that will be for all people, the One who was “born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). St. Matthew tells of Magi from the east—Gentiles who practice an alien wisdom but seek the Truth above all things—who offer on behalf of all the nations gifts befitting the divine Child, at once the King of all Kings, the eternal High Priest of all creation, and the spotless Victim who supplants all other sacrifice. And for St. John the glory of Christ is most completely manifest when our Lord is “lifted up”—an enigmatic expression that recalls simultaneously Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—and the Son of Man draws all mankind to himself (Jn 8:28; 12:32).
But for me it is the Epiphany according to St. Mark that is the capstone. If we can see what that Roman centurion saw at the foot of the Cross—perfect Love emptying himself completely of his eternal glory and offering himself up to death so that he might crush the power of death forever—then we will have truly seen God face to face … and live!