Christ The King
Last Ord 34C
Luke 23: 35 — 43
From the time of his temptation in the desert, Jesus consistently avoided all show of power in his own name. In this reading he demonstrates that he can save one who trusts in him. It is this text that is therefore chosen to bring the "Year of Luke" to a close, with the onset of Advent and the start of another Christian year.
All through his ministry, Jesus was under attack by those who had a different agenda regarding what the Messiah should be like, and how he should use force and even manipulation to gain the control of minds. The same influences are still at work under various guises, and still wreaking havoc within and beyond the Church. But those who keep our Lord's teaching echoing constantly within them will perceive the false images of the Messiah for what they are, and will listen even more closely to Jesus' own words and lessons.
In this text we let the Kingship of Christ emerge in all its stark simplicity: "today you will be with me in paradise".
Notes On the Text
Jesus has been executed by crucifixion on a small rubbish dump beyond the walls of Jerusalem, along with two convicted criminals, one on each side of him. Both criminals heard him say, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
"The people stood watching," in other words, staring at a spectacle. Some scholars say everyone "sneered" at Jesus. But it is more likely that a group of the ruling authorities did most of the sneering. After all it was they who insisted that the Messiah must act with power and violence; must vindicate himself by force; must destroy all opposition and triumph over enemies.
Verses 36 and 37
Then it was the soldiers' turn to mock and sneer. They offered their coarse wine as though to honour one who pretended to be a king, adding their final insult: "If you are what you claim to be, prove it by saving yourself!"
Above the head of Jesus was placed a placard, Usually this contained the criminal charge of which the prisoner had been found guilty, and it was tied around his neck. In this case, Jesus had not been found guilty of a single charge. Thus Pilate, instead, had the words (literally), "The King of the Jews; This one!" attached to the most conspicuous place above his head.
In this way Pilate makes a very emphatic statement. He is not mocking Jesus, as he could find no charge against him. He is taking his revenge on the Jewish authorities who outwitted him and forced him to give in to their pressure for the execution of Jesus. Pilate now takes the opportunity to drive home that they are a subject people without a King.
Ironically, Pilate is stating a spiritual truth.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
In fact, his hurling insults demonstrate he was joining those who were mocking Jesus. The question, "Aren't you the Messiah?", is bitterly sarcastic. The early Church considered it to be blasphemy to refuse to take Jesus' powers seriously. St. Luke is reflecting in his Gospel account how despicably the criminal's taunts were viewed.
Verses 40 and 41
But the other criminal responded just as strongly and rebuked him:
Word of Pilate's original judgement must have got around: no criminal charge against Jesus could be sustained before the highest Court in the land.
This criminal is stating only what he has heard and believed. The most caustic insults within his hearing have, ironically, brought him to the truth.
The same man began saying something, which he repeated several times:
He assumes Jesus will die and rise and return in regal splendour. This is a stupendous act of faith in these gruelling circumstances. However defective his faith may have been, the penitent thief sought Jesus' mercy. Although he thought of the Messiah coming in power, our Lord accepted his simple faith and, as usual, responded with overwhelming generosity.
In the 5th century the great St. Augustine taught that Jesus was rejected by the authorities who saw him raise the dead, but was not rejected by the thief who saw him dying on the cross.
The penitent thief's request is merely to be remembered when (whenever, that is) Jesus returns.
Our Lord, in his final words to anyone before he died, said in effect:
These words are indeed spoken like a King. We should observe that our Lord was crucified at last as a King. He came to set up a spiritual kingdom, and as a King he died.
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