CHRIST THE KING (C); November 24, 2019
2 Sm 5:1-3 Ps 122 Col 1:12-20 Lk 23: 35-43
Deacon Jim McFadden
Today we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Gospel from Luke presents the kingship of Jesus as the culmination of his saving work, but does so in a very surprising way: “The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King” (Lk 23:35,37). He does not appear with overwhelming dominative power in which he lords it over his subjects as most worldly leaders do. Their way of ruling is often times based on fear, intimidation, and the manipulation of people’s fears, anxieties, and expectations. But, Jesus is a king in a strange new way. His kingdom is not sustained by arrogance, self-absorption, rivalries, and oppression. Rather, the reign of Christ, as we say in the Preface at Mass, is a “kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” Jesus will bring all of this about by revealing himself as king.
But, the Lucan Gospel has Jesus on the Cross, where he seems more like a conquered, tortured, deflated figure rather than a conqueror. We need to pay attention because Jesus’ kingship is paradoxical. His throne is the Cross! His crown is made of thorns; he has no scepter, but a reed put into his hand; he does not have purple luxurious clothing, but is stripped naked; he wears no shiny rings, but his wrists are pierced with nails; he has no treasure, but is sold for thirty pieces of silver, the going price of a slave.
Jesus on the Cross: that is where we gather and pay him homage. When we stand before the crucified Christ, we cannot see anything but astonishing, gratuitous love If you want to know just how much God loves you, gaze upon the crucified Christ. We will see a love that remains steadfast and complete, even in the face of rejection and ridicule. We will see how Jesus mercifully pours God’s unconditional love into our hearts. Jesus’ whole life was expended in the total surrender of himself to the Father so that we may be saved and share in his divine life now and forever.
Many people then and now just don’t get it. Yes, we believe that Jesus is the King of the Universe, as we hear in the soaring words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. But, that would mean very little if we did not make Jesus Lord of our lives: all of this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and make him the Center of our lives; in so doing, we also accept his way of being king. The people in today’s Gospel help us to attain clarity. In addition to Jesus, there are types of figures who appear: the people who are looking on, those near the Cross, and the criminal crucified next to Jesus.
First, the people: Luke says that “the people stood by watching” (v. 35). No one says a word, no one draws any closer. They keep their distance, just observing. These people may have been the ones who were pressing Jesus to do something for them—to heal them or feed them. With Jesus impaled on the Cross, they just keep their distance. How about us? Given the circumstances of our life when our expectations are frustrated or unfulfilled, we too can keep our distance from Jesus’ kingship. If we relate to Jesus to have our needs met, then we will miss the scandal of his humble love, which unsettles and disturbs us. So, we prefer to keep Jesus at a distance, rather than draw near and to be with him. But, a people who are called to be holy (as we were anointed at our baptism) will follow Jesus’ way of self-giving, humble love. Keeping their gaze on Jesus, rather than themselves, they ask each day: “What does love ask of me, where is it urging me to go? What answer am I giving Jesus with the way I live my life?”
The second group of people includes the leaders of the people, the soldiers, and a criminal. They all mock Jesus. As he is dying, they provoke him by saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (v. 37). These people are worse than the first because they are tempting Jesus, just as the Devil did at the beginning of his ministry in the desert. They want Jesus to give up reigning as his Father wants, but instead rule according to the world’s ways: to come down from the Cross and destroy his enemies! If you are God, Jesus, show your power and superiority by doing something dramatic. This temptation is a direct attack on Love: “save yourself” (vv. 37,39), not others. Assert your kingship with dominant power, assert your glory with a spectacular display of superiority, claim your victory by crushing your enemies. That’s what we’d do and we and we want Jesus to do the same.
This is a terrible temptation, which is the first and last of the Gospel. Jesus could do all of that, but then he wouldn’t be the Son of God. When confronted with this attack on his very way of being, Jesus does not speak, he does not react. He does not defend himself, he does not try to convince, he does not mount a last dying gasp of defense. Instead, Jesus continues to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to his Father’s will, which is what his whole life was about. Why? Knowing who God is, Jesus was certain that love will bear fruit.
In order to embrace the kingship of Jesus, we are called to resist this temptation as well. We are called to keep our gaze on the Crucified Jesus, to become ever more faithful to him. How many times do we try to have it both ways. We say that Jesus is Lord, but we cover our bets by seeking the comforts and assurances offered by the world. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, how often are we tempted to come down from our Cross giving into the lure of power, success, and hedonistic pleasure? Are we content just to profess being Catholic while forgetting how the Kingdom of God works? Namely, to operate as God does by sharing our lives with others through the works of mercy, especially to the anawim—the poor, marginalized, and broken.
In the Gospel there is another person, who is closer to Jesus and that’s the thief , who understood the full magnitude of Jesus’s kingship; he begs him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”(v. 42). This person, simply by looking at the crucified and dying Jesus, saw something in him. In the agony of Jesus’ dying, he saw meekness and mercy. The kingship of Jesus does not oppress us like worldly kingdoms do. Instead, his Kingdom frees us from our weaknesses and miseries, encouraging us to walk according to his reign—which is the path of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation.
So, let us look at the Cross of Jesus just as the “good thief” did. Together with him let us say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into kingdom” (v. 42). Let us live confidently surrounded by God’s incredible love. Let us take the graces we have received during this liturgical year and let us be the face of compassionate , merciful love.
Just as Jesus replied to the Good Thief “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43), we too can live now and forever in Jesus kingdom. Amen.