Luke’s gospel for the Feast of Christ the King presents Jesus, not in a royal palace, but on a dark desolate hill. He’s not surrounded by cheering crowds, but by people cursing his name. He has no crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. His robe lies torn from him, heaped on the ground soaked in his blood. His throne is a cross, and over the cross is the inscription: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The temptation is to see this scene as a failure. But listen to the gospel. One of the criminals calls out to the wretched figure hanging next to him: “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” And power goes out from him. “This day you will be with me in paradise.
The thief is an interesting figure in the gospel. He has no name, nothing is known of his life or his crime. There he is, desperate, thinking all is gone. Powerless, no one would take a chance on him. Who would bother with him or think him worthwhile? Who would come close to him? Only a God who in the person of Jesus Christ would come so low as to share a cross with him.
The thief has no name, but we believer that he bears everyone’s name. In the thief we see ourselves, our desperate, poor, powerless selves. Yes, that is how much Christ loves us. He is close to the sinners of this world, to us..
This evening at our mission at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Raleigh, NorthCarolina, I recommended reading the gospels for the rich spirituality each of them offers.
Tonight we read St Luke’s passion narrative, the focal point of his gospel. All the narrativesbefore it, from the infancy narrative, to the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, his initial mission in Galilee, and his journey to Jerusalem lead to his passion, death and resurrection.
Jesus does not journey alone, nor does he suffer and die and rise again alone. He does not enter paradise alone.From Galilee to Jerusalem followers join him, interesting followers, like Zacchaeus the publican and the blind man on the Jericho road whom some might find questionable followers. Jesus embraces them.
In Luke’s gospel the mercy of Jesus seems to increase as he journeys to Calvary and his death on the Cross. He does not turn his face away from Peter who denies him. He reaches out to those who crucify him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Calvary, a place of death, becomes a shining place of mercy. A thief who simply asks for remembrance is promised paradise. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.
The thief finds a companion in death. He does not die alone or without hope. Reading Luke’s gospel we hear this same promise made to us. The thief is sinful humanity.