Gospel Luke 23:35-43
The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’
Our faith is built on apparent contradictions or paradoxes and today we take leave of Christ in this liturgical year speaking of kingship, sovereignty, empire, majesty, might and power. The Gospel, however, shows Jesus about to take leave of the world looking very unlike a powerful king.
Jesus takes leave of the world before his crucifixion. He is apparently powerless, abandoned, and humiliated. Yet, in answer to Pilate’s question he declares himself to be king; king of truth. Jesus’ kingdom, he teaches, is not of this world, and Pilate being a man of the world of politics and power, fails to understand. His ideas of kings and kingship are altogether of a different order.
Jesus tries to explain, once again, that his kingdom does not belong to the world. He has constantly to overturn his disciples and his followers’ expectations and even those of his enemies regarding the Messiah.
Jesus teaches a kingdom founded on his witness to the truth of God’s care and faithful love for his people, proven by his sending of the Son, and the truth of Christ’s victory over all the powers of this world, most especially over the greatest power and tyrant of all, death. Christ’s royal power is the power of truth, and his throne is within the hearts of each one of us, swept clean of sin. His kingdom is a way of living which is marked by mutual respect, recognition of the dignity of each person, justice, peace, forgiveness, mercy and faithfulness.
It is an upside-down kingdom, where the lowly and the last in the eyes of this world come first, where the weak are powerful and the mighty are cast from their thrones.
Christ’s kingdom is built up within and among us when we empty ourselves, after the example of Christ and serve him in others. It is a kingdom growing and developing slowly and unseen among us and a kingdom which will come to its fulfilment and perfection in the presence of God. It is a kingdom we pray for, work for, hope for, and look for. We share in its announcement and in its building here on earth so that we may one day share in its reality.
Jesus had no standing army but he did have followers. He did not sit on a throne but on the back of a donkey. He wore no crown of gold but one of thorns. He did not use his authority to take life but to give it. He did not set boundaries or entertain only the nobility; he welcomed prostitutes, foreigners and thieves. He did not exploit people but spoke sympathetically of widows, prodigals, Samaritans and the poor. He did not wield the sword of punishment but extended mercy and forgiveness.