Today is the feast of Christ the Universal King. I find it fascinating that one of the most vulnerable moments of Jesus’ life is proclaimed on the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King. What purpose is served by reading the passage of leaders sneering at Jesus and soldiers jeering Jesus? Included in today’s gospel reading is also a passage unique to the Gospel of Luke. It is the story of the two criminals crucified next to Jesus. One criminal reviles Jesus whereas the other is welcomed into paradise by Jesus.

My homily today departs from my regular pattern. Today, I am going to provide a brief commentary on Luke’s description of the crucifixion of Jesus and then invite you to a moment of prayer.

First, Luke’s approach in composing the crucifixion of Jesus is unique. He carefully distinguishes the leaders and the soldiers who sneered and jeered at Jesus from the ordinary folks who just stood watching the spectacle. The people say nothing. Luke maintains this distinction even when it comes to the two criminals crucified next to Jesus. One of the criminals joined the leaders and soldiers in mocking Jesus whereas the other criminal made a confession of faith. He defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).

Second, Luke separates Jesus as the proclaimer of God’s kingdom from his opponents in another way. His opponents do not understand the sacrifice of Jesus. They understand ‘life’ as saving this earthly life. For them to have life is to perpetuate this human existence. Jesus was on a completely different level. Through his crucifixion and death, life was being accomplished on a very different level – both for him and for humanity. His crucifixion and death is the very source of life. The promise of paradise to the repentant thief symbolizes the life which Jesus represents.

Third, Luke employs another literary skill that brings out the paradox of the crucifixion. While the leaders, the soldiers, and the criminal revile him, they also reveal Jesus’ identity. Their insults include Jesus’ Messianic titles. For example, the rulers said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the ‘chosen one’, the ‘Christ of God.’” The soldiers said, “If you are ‘King of the Jews’, save yourself.” The unrepentant criminal reviled Jesus saying, “Are you not ‘the Christ’? Save yourself and us.” Indeed, the titles that Jesus’ opponents give him is the truth, but his opponents simply do not understand the implications.

Finally, let me introduce you to a new dimension of Luke’s writing. We have considered Jesus’ opponents, we have considered the people who watched a spectacle, the unrepentant criminal, and the repentant one. The new dimension is the reader — both Luke’s immediate readers and Luke distant readers such as you and me. Today, on the feast of Christ the King, you and I are being pulled into the story of Jesus – “the Chosen One, the Christ of God, the King of the Jews, the Messiah.” The crowd watched, the leaders sneered, the soldiers jeered, and the criminal reviled. Luke presents the repentant criminal’s confession of faith to inspire us. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).

And now it is up to you and me.

I now invite you to a moment of prayer… 

To “the Chosen One, the Christ of God, the King of the Jews, the Messiah” we too can pray: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” If you feel inspired, imagine yourself in front of the crucifix. Make the repentant criminal’s prayer your own. Like a mantra, repeat over and over again, until it comes from the core of your being. May it be a contemplative, redemptive moment.

Image: Jesus Christ crucified, one of the best known religious works of the Sevillian painter Diego Velázquez. Public Domain

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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.

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