November 23, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
34 C CHRIST THE KING
Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Introduction: The readings present us two images of Jesus as King, the crucified Christ and the cosmic Christ.
Homily: In the Gospel the rulers sneer, the soldiers jeer and one of the criminals reviled Jesus crucified on the cross.
In Mark’s account of the Passion the emphasis of the mockers at this point is “come down from the cross.” They cannot accept a Christ on a cross. They want to get rid of the cross.
In Luke’s account the emphasis is slightly different. Their chorus is: rulers, “let him save himself”; soldiers, “save yourself”; one of the criminals, “save yourself and us.”
We too wish to do away with the cross. But Jesus is clear about this, “if anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” Luke 9:24 (RSV)
Christ the King as crucified Christ is not what some people were looking for then or are looking for now. The paradox of saving our life by losing it and losing our life to save it is not easily understood or accepted. What are we asking when we cry out as the one criminal did, “save yourself and us.”
But besides these responses of derision and mocking of Jesus, there is in today’s Gospel from Luke the response of acceptance. The contrast between the two criminals on his right and his left is strong and dramatic. They represent conflicting judgments that people had about Jesus.
Luke alone recalls the precious dialogue of Jesus with “the other criminal”. In Luke this other criminal (who we have come to know as the “good thief”) acknowledges the justice of his own sentence and confesses the innocence of one whom he addresses intimately as “Jesus”. The suffering Jesus responds with greater generosity than the petitioner requests, for Jesus will not simply remember the man after entering into his Kingdom; he will take the man with him this very day. The oft-used observation that the “good thief” ultimately stole the Kingdom is not too far from the truth.
Our Second Reading for this feast highlights another aspect of Christ the King. He is the cosmic Christ. There is a mosaic of Christ the pantocrater (ruler of all) in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It captures something of the cosmic Christ. This is the Christ whom the letter to the Colossians describes in this language, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible¼all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together¼.For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell¼” This is an image of a rule without boundaries, one who is king not only of earth but of all creation—and even beyond. This is a kingship beyond any human grasp or gift. But we should remember we are created in the image and likeness of God. That means all of us are to be creative and creators.
But the next image in Colossians, and developed in the Gospel, is almost the direct opposite, the “King of the Jews” whose throne is a cross (but whose gift of Paradise is as wide as the cosmic image of the second reading.) Colossians picks up from: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell¼” and continues “and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
(Richard Rohr says that his latest book “the Cosmic Christ” is his most important. Matthew Fox also employs this image and even celebrates a Cosmic Mass.)
We end our liturgical year focusing on the promise of Paradise to the good thief. It is also God’s promise to us. We must take up our cross daily, we must lose our life to save it and save it by losing it. We can perhaps end our sermon and our church year by singing together this refrain several times: “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus remember when you come into your kingdom.