17 November, 2019. 34th Sunday – Christ the King, Year C
First Reading: Second Samuel 5:1-3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20
Gospel: Luke 23:35-43
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Reflection: I once had the following questions asked of me ‘if God is All-Powerful why does he allow suffering and why does he allow evil people to do evil deeds?’
The first question was asked because the person’s father had died suddenly of cancer and the second because of the terrorist attack in New York in 2001 and why Osama bin Laden, who was blamed for organising and carrying out so much evil, wasn’t punished by God.
Maybe the problem with these questions is that we misunderstand what God being all-powerful means. Of course we accept God is all-powerful but what does it mean? The gospel today and the whole life of Jesus tells us that God chooses to come to us not in power as we define it but as God defines it. God is saying to us quite clearly that he is strong and all-powerful enough to allow himself to come to us in weakness. God is free enough to do this. Why? Most probably because he loves us so much that he doesn’t wish to force his way and love on us. If he came in power and strength like the American airpower in Afghanistan who could resist that? These people are being bombed into submission. But our loving God is clearly not like that.
He chooses to come not in power and strength but in weakness and invitation. He began life like that as a weak, needy, vulnerable child just like you or me. Incredibly we have the power to make this God suffer and even to crucify God on the cross should we choose because he allows it. He won’t force himself on us. He comes to us in this totally unthreatening manner so that we can choose to accept his ways or reject them. This is the mystery. Why God does this is his decision and I accept he knows what he is doing even if it seems so contrary to what we would do. Some people say ‘If I were God I would destroy bin Laden’. Fortunately we are not God. And if God did this where would I stand? Am I without sin?
Today’s gospel says clearly that the inscription or sign written above Jesus as he was dying on the cross said: “This is the King of the Jews”. What is the meaning of this kingship or reign of Jesus? Jesus reigns from a cross. A king or a dictator may choose to rule his people with violence leading to bloodshed as many indeed do these times. Other leaders may conquer their people with intelligence and skill. But there is another way of ruling, namely the kind practised by Jesus in his suffering and dying. This consists of giving oneself in love and service to others. The kingship of Jesus consists in forgiving sin, being compassionate, healing and offering the fullness of life beginning here and now.
In our scheme of things the two thieves were condemned to death because of their crimes as confirmed by the so-called good thief. ‘You get what you deserve and so it serves you right’, as we would say. God’s kingship, God’s justice is that he himself justifies people not on the basis of what they deserve or on the basis of their merits but out of pure grace, the pure gift of his love, totally unmerited and unearned. This is the good news. A marvelous prayer to make is ‘Loving God, thank you for you being You’. That is, not a vengeful, vindictive, punishing God but a loving, understanding, forgiving one. That is the message of today’s feast. Is not that real good news? Sadly so many Christians do not have this image of God but One who will punish me if I do wrong forgetting that sin carries its own punishment.
Here then the radical opposition is not between what is spiritual and temporal, religious and historical. Rather it is between the power of domination and the power of service. Jesus is not a king like this world’s rulers, many of whom dominate and mistreat those under them. Jesus does not use his power for his own benefit and this is precisely why he does not save himself. The Lord came to teach us and he does it by the example of his own life and terrible death that all power, political, religious and intellectual must be at the service of the oppressed and the destitute.
Service, not domination, is the great norm of the kingdom announced by the Lord. It is betrayed when we use whatever power we may have received to impose our ideas and preserve our privileges.
Today’s feast clearly challenges us to make a choice, to take sides. We are either for or against Jesus our crucified king and this is confirmed by the value system we live by.
Here on the cross the kingship of Jesus begins and as Jesus himself testifies, this kingship is not of this world. But it can begin in this world and is capable of changing society to its very foundations. The kingdom begins wherever people begin to live according the lifestyle, the values and attitudes of Jesus. As today’s preface says: it is a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. All these we badly need today.
“Jesus our crucified king, help us to learn and live by the values you came to proclaim which alone lead to lasting justice, peace and joy beginning here and now. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA