The people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“The Healer of Brokenness”
The Church’s Liturgical Year concludes with the celebration of Christ as King in connection with his role as the savior and healer of brokenness in its various forms.
The first reading shows how a bloody, seven-year long civil war between Israel’s northern tribes and the tribe of Judah came to an end. The elders of the northern tribes travelled south to meet David in his home city, Hebron. Despite and above tribal loyalties and political interests, they understood that David was the best person to restore unity and security to the nation.
David’s qualities determined that God chose him for the role of king. David had defeated the giant Goliath, and led the Israelite soldiers in the war against the Philistines under Saul (1 Sam 18:14-16). David resided in Hebron, an ancient Israelite city where Abraham built the first altar to God in the land of Canaan (Gen 13:18). Also located here was the first property which Abraham owned. He had purchased a field to bury his wife Sarah near Hebron (Gen 23:19). The fact that David resided in Hebron might have contributed to the northern elders’ decision to offer him the crown. Accepting the offer, a humble shepherd from the tribe of Judah became the shepherd of all God’s people, God’s anointed, and the first great king over all the tribes of Israel.
As a king, David made the unification and consolidation of his nation his chief goal. He established Jerusalem as the nation’s capital and brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. He made it a sanctuary and organized the worship of God, so that all tribes would come together to honor their God through prayers and sacrifices. This greatly helped to heal the painful divisions and wounds from the past. David organized the state administration and fought back all external enemies. The period of lawlessness and war ended, giving way to an era of peace, unity and stability. No wonder that the Israelites saw David as a perfect king. Later generations in the time of chaos and trouble took David as a model for a future perfect king, the Messiah, who would save the nation and heal all brokenness and divisions.
The second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Colossian community which consisted of newly converted Gentiles. Paul wrote to them to further their Christian education by making them aware of just how great a grace and gifts they received from God through Jesus Christ.
Paul begins with thanksgiving for God’s three great gifts. First, the Colossians became sharers in the inheritance “of the saints”. This inheritance is their inclusion in the community of believers, who are frequently designated as “saints”. Second, this membership means that they have been transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom ruled by Jesus, God’s Son. They are now God’s people under the authority of Christ. Under the dominion of darkness, the Colossians suffered from ignorance while sin ruled their lives. They were rescued by God’s third great gift, redemption and forgiveness of sin, which came through Jesus Christ. Sin enslaves people while isolating them from God and from one another. In Greek, redemption means freeing slaves by paying a price to secure their freedom. Jesus did just that by going to the cross and thus liberating the Colossians from the dominion of sin and darkness.
Paul then turns his attention to Jesus Christ in one the most beautiful hymns in the New Testament. He calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God” which means that Christ reflects God in an unparalleled manner. The phrase, “firstborn of all creation” means that he has absolute authority over everything that exists, just as the firstborn son inherits all of his father’s authority and property. Moreover, all material things and all livings beings were created “through him” and “for him”. Thus, Christ is the creator, the true king and the ruler of the universe.
Finally, the hymn considers Christ’s relationship to those whom he redeemed. Using the image of the body Paul calls Christ the head of his body, which is the Church. Christ is the Church’s supreme leader because this community was founded on his resurrection. He is “the firstborn from the dead”. In Christ God’s fullness dwells because he shares God’s divine nature. God acts through Christ “to reconcile to himself all things”. This reconciliation happened on the cross where Christ brought about the forgiveness of sins. By removing the barrier of sin, Christ made reconciliation between humanity and God possible and brought humanity to the right relationship with God. Christ, undoubtedly the king of the universe, is also a great reconciler who healed the brokenness of the human race.
The Gospel reading presents the climax of Jesus’ public ministry. This scene of the crucifixion shows the leaders, soldiers, and one of the crucified criminals mocking Jesus as a deluded deceiver who claimed to be a savior. According to them, the cross proves that Jesus cannot save anybody, even himself. The following verses shows that the contrary is true.
The second crucified criminal acknowledges his guilt and confirms Jesus’ innocence. He then turns to Jesu pleading, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”. His words reveal what he thought about Jesus.
In the Old Testament, when God “remembers” his covenant, he acts to save and forgive his people. God remembered his covenant hearing the cry of his oppressed people in Egypt (Exod 2:24). God remembered his covenant when the Israelites broke the covenant making the golden calf, and forgave them (Exod 32:13). Thus, asking Jesus to “remember” him, the criminal calls for forgiveness and salvation. Importantly, he is the only person in Luke’s Gospel who ever addressed Jesus directly by his proper name, “Jesus”, which means “God saves”. In his cry, the criminal shows his belief that Jesus can act like God, forgiving and saving.
The crucified man also referred to Jesus’ kingdom. This reveals that he considers Jesus as a king. However, since Jesus is yet to “come into his kingdom”, and he is about to die, this kingdom must be out of this world and beyond death.
Jesus responded with the pledge that this criminal whose life was broken by sin and wrongdoing would soon see paradise. Saying this, Jesus performs the last and ultimate act of healing in his ministry. This repentant man will be the first to see Christ’s heavenly kingdom, the first one to experience salvation. On the cross, in this final act of his earthly ministry, Jesus confirmed himself as the true savior and the true king.
Today’s liturgy brings into focus the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, the saviour and the king who heals the broken world. David united the divided Israelite tribes bringing them together as God’s people for the first time. Still, he was surpassed by Jesus in every way. Paul taught the Colossians that Christ is the center-point of all creation and of their community. He is the true king of the universe and a great healer who reconciled them to God. On the cross, Jesus performed the final act of his public ministry acting as savior and king. He “remembered” the repentant criminal and brought him into the heavenly kingdom. Having Jesus as their savior and king, believers are justified in joyfully singing with the repentant criminal and with the Psalmist “let us go to the house of the Lord”.
Mother earth has witnessed the rise and fall of many kingdoms. There have been kings and leaders who never dreamt that their reign would one day come to an end, but it did. A piece of truth worth remembering is that no earthly condition is permanent. Against the backdrop of the collapse of many kingdoms, the Church invites us to ponder over a kingship that has permanency, one that brings wholeness where there is brokenness and one that exists to save.
On the cross, Jesus did not look like a king. He appeared weak and powerless, unable to save himself, let alone save another person. The leaders of the Jewish community scoffed, the soldiers mocked and one of the dying criminals derided him. However, it was precisely in that state of brokenness that he revealed the character of his kingship. He allowed himself to be broken in order to identify himself with all who are broken and thus bring healing to the would-be subjects of his kingdom.
One of the dying criminals, at the last hour of his life made a profound request to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). What Kingdom was he referring to? The Letter to the Colossians gives us a clue, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). It is a kingdom where broken and sinful persons are restored, redeemed and given a place in Christ.
The kingship of Christ is grounded in the virtue of love, love not just for the righteous but, most importantly, for the sinner. It is said, “when virtue founds a town, the town thrives and abides”. This is the secret behind the expance of the Kingdom of Christ which has survived from one generation to the next.
The elders of Israel came to Hebron and anointed David as king over all Israel. Our story is different. We do not go in search of a king. It is he who comes in search of us. We do not anoint a king to rule over us. It is he who anoints us and makes us sharers in his kingdom.
The vastness of the authority of Christ as King echoes in the hymn, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:15-16).
We are citizens of a powerful kingdom with a powerful king to lead us, we need not entertain any fear in our hearts. All we need to do is to rise up and discover who we are in Christ the King.