Veni, vidi, vici. It’s one of the most poached little dictums floating around from history. Most know it originated with Julius Caesar when he vanquished his rivals to become sole leader of Rome. The phrase means “I came I saw, I conquered.” This saying has been adulterated many times over. Victor Hugo: “I came, I saw, I lived”. The Ghostbusters movie: “We came, we saw, we kicked a*”. Hillary Clinton remarking on Quadaffi’s death: “We came, we saw, he died”. You get the drift. It all comes down to what moves you.
Julius Caesar got his earthly kingdom - that’s why we know who he is. There were rumblings about what kind of man he was early on in his career. According to Plutarch, he was once captured by Cilician pirates and held for the ransom of twenty talents of silver. Caesar scoffed at this amount and demanded that his captors increase the sum to fifty. When he told them he would live to see them all crucified, they laughed at his brashness. Later on, he held true to his vow, tracked them down and executed the entire crew. The only concession he made to mercy, was to slit the pirates’ throats to shorten their suffering. You get the idea that Julius Caesar was a man who meant business. He would go to great lengths to establish his throne on earth.
Veni, vedi, vici. I came, I saw I conquered. If there were a Christian version of that, it might simply be, Veni, vidi. I came, I saw. It’s the role of witness. No suffix to that syllogism, maybe because it defies logic.
Christianity might be the one religion where the notion of payback in this life is sparse. Virtue is its own reward. Saint Paul himself said in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, “ If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we of all men are most to be pitied.”
Jesus understood that it was never about an earthly kingdom, but a clash between kingdoms… good and evil coming into sharp contrast. It’s why he told the Pharisees, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Leave off those earthly conquests. If you are looking for a reward, it will not be realized in the world as we know it. And so in Christianity, we are left waiting without the appearance of resolution. The now and the not yet kingdom. The Christian version, Veni, vidi stands as an open question facing eternity. I came and I saw. A pregnant pause whispered into the void.
It could be that what you witnessed was sufficient. One sight I came across in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, affected me greatly. You turn the corner in an antechamber and suddenly come face to face with a wall of crosses as far as the eye can see. I asked someone what they were all about, and was told that the marks were carved as a sign of hope by the many pilgrims in the course of history who added their witness to that stone face.
Pilgrimage in times past, was a dangerous and expensive thing. It was time consuming. You had to pick up your life and put it down again, sometimes literally walking across continents. Coming to the Holy Land to step on the same stones Jesus knew, to see the places where his words rang out and the Gospel was made known. The pilgrims who left their marks are long gone, and yet their cumulative hope stares me in the face. It is unavoidable. Arriving in this place, I stand shoulder to shoulder with all the saints who gazed at the meaning of life and then added their own mark in the shape of a cross.
Human ambition is a zero-sum game which requires winners and losers. Yet for every person who covets an earthly throne, sits a host of others who hold on for what is often missing in the world; goodness, wholeness, virtue and justice. The Bible refers to this new covenant as “a better hope” Hebrews 7:19. Christ himself assures those waiting for better things. “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6.
That’s the point of God’s plan: it is situated in human history by the incarnation of Christ. It has a beginning and an end, and travels in a linear direction. Its reward is the ultimate triumph of perfect justice. When human ambition has long passed away, God’s intentions will reign forever, and will overwrite the need for other reasons. “Let justice roll down like a mighty river, and righteousness like a never-ending stream,” proclaimed the Prophet Amos. From Isaiah we get an idea of what this will look like; “The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together.” That will be us, scribing a wall of crosses across the sky.
I came, I saw, I witnessed. Standing with the saints in holy awe, on the weight of God’s promise.
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