Note: This concludes the lectio on the Sunday Gospels of the three-year cycle. The ‘team’, author and translators, take their leave and thank all their readers.
May the Word of God, which is Christ Jesus, continue to guide our lives.
34th Sunday, Year C – CHRIST THE KING – Lectio divina on Lk 23,35-43
The church ends the liturgical year with the celebration of the kingship of Christ. During the year, Sunday after Sunday, we remember what God has done for us and how much it cost his Son to accomplish it. The boundless love of God and the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus were, therefore, the central motif of our liturgical pilgrimage. The Solemnity of Christ the King is a kind of summary of all that we have lived and celebrated in the year that is ending. Jesus Christ is our king because God made him Lord of our lives and of our world. God gave him this power, not to make us his slaves, but to save us from death. In order that we might not be lost, God has entrusted us to the attention of one who wants to take care of us. The love God has for us led him to put us under the sovereignty of the one who gave his life for us: his son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Who can take care of us if not the one who gave his life for us?
At that time: 35 The rulers scoffed at Jesus, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I. LECTIO: understand what the text is saying, paying attention to how it says it
It is a very ancient Christian belief that it was by his resurrection that God established Jesus of Nazareth as Lord and Christ. Over time, Christians came to understand that his death on the cross was, in fact, the ceremony of his enthronement as king. Luke gives a written account of that ancient conviction.
The scene is short and it is masterfully written. Luke has given space to the people who were present at the death of Jesus and allowed them to speak: the authorities, who had condemned him (Luke 23:35); the soldiers, who executed him (Lk 23,36 ); the criminals who died alongside him (Lk 23.39 to 40 ). The three groups will believe in Jesus only if he can save himself. They will accept him as the Messiah only if saves himself and them. (Lk 23,35.36,39). The authorities doubt that he can save himself, even though they cannot deny that he has saved others. The soldiers ask him to demonstrate his power by freeing himself from death. One of the criminals urges him to show his power by saving himself and saving him. Only the other criminal acknowledges his guilt and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. He is the only one there who will gain salvation and enter the kingdom (Luke 23:43).
Everyone is talking about Jesus as he is dying, but, significantly, he speaks only at the end to ensure the salvation of the one who did not doubt his Messianic dignity. All the ‘good thief’ did was to confess his guilt, recognize the innocence of Jesus and ask to be remembered in his kingdom. Those who asked that he give proof by freeing himself from the cross before they could accept him as the Messiah of Israel, did not get an answer. The one who had no doubt about his innocence, or his divinity, asked Jesus only to remember him, and he was granted a place with Jesus in his kingdom (Luke 23:43).
The scene closes by revealing the true will of Jesus to save those who ask him. But to be able to ask, they must first confess their own unworthiness and accept the way that Jesus is revealed as the Messiah of God, which is by his death on the cross. Jesus proves he is the Messiah, not by escaping death, but by dying to save mankind from death.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life.
On Calvary, it is not possible to misunderstand the kingship of Jesus. At most, as can be seen from today’s Gospel reading it is possible simply not to understand it. Those who mocked him while he hung on the cross, proclaimed him King and Messiah, albeit in irony. Reigning from a cross is an unusual form of kingship, one that is not easy to believe in. To enter his own kingdom accompanied by a criminal condemned to death does not seem a noble or reasonable way to make one’s first appearance as king. Among those who were present at his crucifixion, the only one who shared the kingdom with him was one who had shared his suffering and his death. The one who overcame the shame and accompanied him in his passion, accompanied him also as he entered his kingdom. The man who shared his fate, even though he was executed as a condemned criminal, shared also in his moment of triumph. Those who accompany him in suffering will triumph with him. This is the promise and commitment made by the crucified Lord as he hung on the cross, and the promise was fulfilled in his first companion as he entered his kingdom.
Only God could have thought of placing our lives and our destiny in the hands of one who gave his life to save ours. If we want to know the eternal truth of the love that God has for us, we need to know and believe that Jesus is king of life and death. God has delivered us from all other lords and all forms of slavery, so that we can become subjects of the one Lord who is Christ crucified.
Therefore, since being the subject of Christ gains for us the love of God, we must do everything we can to become his subject. The Gospel passage tells us how. Jesus is king because he died on the cross. He did not become king in the same way as rulers of today or so many in the past, through family inheritance or being elected by the people. Jesus became king by resolutely giving his life. His sovereignty was gained through his personal sacrifice, and his sovereignty is exercised by serving his subjects, not by being served by them. Christ will return to reign wherever he finds subjects who give themselves completely in the service of others. Christ will not cease to reign among us, as long as there are Christians capable of giving their lives to ensure that others do not lose theirs.
We need to realize that Christ does not come to reign in the lives of people because they are better than others. Only one thing is necessary and that is to stay near the cross of Christ and be his companion in suffering. The gospel makes it clear: the first citizen of the kingdom was a criminal. The authorities, the soldiers who mocked him, the curious bystanders who came to watch the spectacle, even his friends, the disciples who abandoned him, all lost their opportunity. They did not think they were bad enough to deserve such a punishment. But the man who acknowledged his guilt, a convict who, by pure accident, shared his fate with Jesus, was the one who was able to take advantage of the situation and gain a place in his kingdom.
If we hope to accompany Christ into paradise, it not enough simply to share in his passion. We must also recognize our own sin, and we must ask him to remember us when he comes back with his kingdom. Jesus dies like us, but he is not deserving of death as we are. Sharing everything with Jesus, including his cruel death, is the necessary condition if we are to share in his kingdom. We cannot hope to enter into his kingdom if we have not made his journey our own. If we say we are subjects of Christ the King, we must accept the service of the cross. The cross is his throne. This means that all who accept him as king must accept their own cross. We can understand fully the sovereignty of Christ only if we understand how he obtained it. The goal of Christian life is not the cross, but Christ crucified. All who share his passion, and only those who share his passion, will enter his glory, and they will do so no matter how unworthy their lives may have been.
We who today are happy to have such a king, one who became king because he died for us, need to be careful and check if really we are serving him as he deserves. It is not possible to have him as our Lord and King if we continue to make success, power, money or pleasure the goal of our lives, sometimes even at the cost of other people’s live. Which kingdom do we want to belong to – the kingdom of this world or the kingdom of the crucified one? If we are companions of the crucified Jesus, we will spend our lives in the service of others, day by day, not with grand gestures, but with perseverance. Then we will have more life, a better future, more hope, and we will work in a society of Christians willing to give life rather than take it away. Our world is full of bad people. It needs good Christians, subjects of the crucified king.
We should not forget: in order to bring the kingdom of Christ to people today, God does not depend only on our goodness. It is enough that we are willing to share the cross with Christ, in our case a cross that we deserve. Christ continues his work and is still in need of people who will share his passion, Christians who, in spite of their many failings, do not deny their crucified Lord. We must be willing to share with him our grief and our solitude, and tell him all our misfortunes, in order not to lose him forever. If Christ reigns from the cross, then all who suffer can count on him, as one who shares in their suffering. They will be assured a place with him when he comes into his kingdom.
Christ has never withdrawn the promise he made to the thief on the day of his death. He brought the promise with him when he entered his kingdom and he renews it while he reigns in heaven. He chose not to work a miracle to avoid death or to offer a brief moment of salvation. He did not, in fact, save either himself or the one beside him from death on the cross. But the companion of his passion and death was not forgotten when Jesus entered his kingdom.
The companions of the crucified Jesus can rest assured that, even if others condemn them or abandon them, God will deliver them from suffering and death. A King like that deserves our loyalty. May your kingdom come in us, O Lord!