Christ the King 2019

My Dear People,

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It is reserved for Christ the King. The gospel of Luke takes us to Jesus on the Cross and the sign for his crime “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”, and Jesus mentions to the good thief “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.

The gospel of Luke mentions the quote of the Psalm 22:8 which states “All who see me mock me”. As the people there watched, Jesus is taunted by three sets of characters: among those who sneered at him were rulers, but the soldiers also jeered at him, and even one of the criminals hanging there reviled or insulted him.

The scorn of the rulers and the criminals focuses on Jesus’ title of Messiah (Luke 23:35,39). If that is really, he is, let him save himself—again echoing the same psalm (which refers to God as the one who saves): “Let him deliver him” (Ps. 22:9). The emphasis on the verb save, occurring four times in these verses, paradoxically explains the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion: by not saving himself, he saved others. Indeed, Jesus is the ‘savior” (Luke 2:11) who has come to bring “salvation” (19:9) and “to save what was lost” (19:10). This is his mission as Messiah (2:11, 9:20)—that is, as a Messiah who suffers (24:26, 44).

The rulers also derisively refer to Jesus as the chosen one (see 9:35), a title pointing to another biblical passage that sheds light on the crucifixion: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased” (Isaiah 42:1 [emphasis added]). Jesus is the servant foretold by Isaiah (Isa. 52:13) who at his crucifixion is “counted among the wicked” (Luke 22:37), quoting Isaiah 53:12). Moreover, Moses also called God’s “chosen one” (Ps. 106:23). At the transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses about his “exodus” to take place in “Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31), and the voice from heaven referred to him as the “chosen Son” (9:35). This exodus of God’s chosen one is now being accomplished.

The mocking by the Roman soldiers focuses on another title—King of the Jews—which is how the title “Messiah” was earlier explained to Pilate (23:2-3). Bearing the same title of King of the Jews in an inscription on the cross. According to the Roman practice, it was likely carried in front of Jesus on his way to the site in order to announce his crime and was then affixed to the cross for the same reason. As part of their mockery, the soldiers offer Jesus drink of sour wine. They unwittingly fulfill another psalm associated with Jesus’ passion: “For my thirst they gave me vinegar” (Ps 69:22).  

Rebuking the criminal’s mocking of Jesus, the other one urged him—especially since they are about to die—to have fear of God, which is necessary for obtaining God’s mercy.  He confesses that they have been condemned justly on account of their crimes but recognizes that Jesus has done nothing wrong. He thus echoes Pilate’s threefold assertion that Jesu is not guilty (23:4,14,22).

He next addresses Jesus and directs a plea to him: remember me when you come into your kingdom. His moment of conversion comes just in time. His appeal recalls biblical prayers to the Lord God—for example, “Remember me according to your mercy” (Ps. 25:7, see Luke 1:54)—yet it is addressed to Jesus, whom Luke has frequently presented as Lord. His prayer expresses the hope that he will be saved not from the cross (see Luke 23:39) but from his sins, and so enter after his death into Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus’ final Amen saying (see 4:24) solemnly grants the appeal. He promises him that he will soon be in Paradise, which was commonly understood in Jewish literature of the time as the realm of blessedness for the righteous after death. Now, however, this blessedness comes from being with Jesus: you will be with me. As seen through Luke, the fulfillment of the promise occurs not in some distant future, but today you will be with me in Paradise.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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