We’ve been leading up to this Sunday, the last one of the liturgical year. All the readings headed to this point have drawn more and more apocalyptic, which seem sadly fitting to the days in which we live. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Today’s Gospel from Luke is very telling when we think of Christ as our Lord and King of the Universe, especially if we think of this with any sort of eschatological or apocalyptic view.
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
So here we are on the last Sunday celebration of the year, with Advent only a week away, a new beginning. Yet, our Gospel points us towards the Cross because everything about Jesus is oriented to that cross. All birth leads to death, and death leads to rebirth – we like to “talk” about it, but not really own it deeply, do we?
So here we are, Jesus is crucified and on the Cross with two thieves, one on either side. One is of course kind of bitter and arrogant. You work with your own imagination on that one. The other is more subdued and humble, and he turns to Jesus asking him to remember him.
The word remember is a powerful one, isn’t it? It is not just about memory, but about restoration. Dismember means one thing, to literally re-member is to reassemble. That’s what Kingdom living is all about! Many into one, so that all might be one. Jesus is very clear about these things throughout the Scriptures.
Here is the rub – we have to become one of the thieves. Which one will we embody?
Angry, bitter, defensive? I know that I can be like that, that I *am* like that, way more often than I want to be. “You’re so smart, YOU FIX IT.” How I shudder to think of my own raw, angry and defensive arrogance in so many instances! If you know me, you can probably picture something… *shudders*
The other thief is more subdued, he has had his moment of realization and metanoia. He clearly recognizes Jesus for who he is. As a result, that asking about remembering changes everything. Jesus is very clear that they are where they are at the moment, but that later the thief will be in Paradise.
So what are we to do? That’s the point, in our quest for holiness it is easy to go down the wrong path. Holiness seems to imply a kind of piety. When I think of good thief, I do not think of a kind of rigid religiosity or piety, but rather that of the holiness of being awake!
Jesus is not a capricious king ruling from on high that we have to fear. Rather, Jesus is the kind of king that awaits our response to his invitation to mercy and to love. This does not mean living without any rules, this means living with awareness of what it means to build the Kingdom. The house is made of many members, and as we are told in another Gospel from John, has “many mansions.” There is room for all of us, it is up to us if we wish to enter.
Let us wake up and turn to the king who came to be one with us, enfleshed and alive just like us, and the one that is at our side. Jesus is waiting for our response, which one will we give him? What will we each decide?
(The responsorial psalm for today is from Psalm 122. I could not help but think of this song from the CD Pilgrim from Tony Alonso, Liam Lawton, and Chris DeSilva. May this music bring you joy.)