|Titian (1477/89-1576), Jesus Christ and the Good Thief, c. 1563 |
The Solemnity of Christ the King (Year "C") - November 21, 2010
LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD'S SON [Texts: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; [Psalm 122]; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43]
The Second Book of Kings tells of David's designation as king over all Israel, the union of northern tribes (Israel) with the southern kingdom (Judah) under his leadership.
Israelite motivation for their choice of David as 'shepherd' and 'ruler' lay in his military leadership and God's decision to take the throne from Saul and entrust it to David (cf. 2 Samuel 3:10).
David was depicted as a pastoral ruler leading by persuasion. But Israel's union was only surface-deep. Underneath, internal conflicts raged, ready to boil over at any time--as David's 33-year rule showed. True and lasting kingship would await another 'anointed one' in David's lineage.
In the gospel, Jesus exercises His rule as God's anointed with kingly right to open the doors of Paradise to those who come into fellowship with Him.
Luke's depiction of the crucifixion shows three negative responses to the Crucified balanced by three positive responses including one offered by the so-called "good thief". Those humiliating Jesus were the religious leaders, the soldiers and a criminal. The positive dispositions toward Him came, in reverse order, from a criminal and--beyond today's gospel reading--from a centurion and the people (cf. 23:46-48).
The catcalls tempted Jesus to hang on to His life ('let Him save Himself'; 'save Yourself'; 'save Yourself and us' as well), a stance completely at odds with His teaching about the true way to life (cf. 9:24).
Jesus' fate on the Cross embodied that of the world's marginalized in every age: 'scoffed at', 'derided' and 'rebuked'. Jesus accepted it all with serenity and inner peace, or so it seemed to one of the criminals crucified with Him.
Inwardly, this became a moment of grace for him. He responded by defending Jesus's innocence to the abusive criminal, admitting his own guilt and asking Jesus to 'remember me when You come into Your kingdom'.
The meaning of 'remember' has been interpreted as asking for a share in the mercy that only a king can give. Perhaps the criminal was conscious that, because of his deeds, his personal fate would differ from the one awaiting Jesus. Or perhaps he knew that he could do nothing now to merit God's favour.
Whatever his intention, the criminal's gesture of humility moved Jesus--as often happened during His ministry--to reach out with comfort and a saving word. As St. Ambrose put it, "More abundant is the favour shown than the request made".
Christ the king, ruling on the Cross, offered salvation to one who unexpectedly repented. The generalized 'when' of the criminal's petition became 'today' in Jesus' assurance that 'you will be with Me in paradise'. The day of his crucifixion became the day of the criminal's entry into Paradise.
The word 'today' on Jesus' lips echoes its frequent use elsewhere in the gospel, showing that in Him the era of salvation has become a reality for the world (cf. 2:11; 4:21; 5:26; 19:11).
'Paradise' is a Persian loan-word meaning "garden" or "park" and, though having secular connotations, was used to refer to the Garden of Eden (Isaiah 51:3). It came to symbolize the future bliss of God's people.
In 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7, Paradise symbolizes Heaven and its happiness. It is the realm where Jesus exercises His kingly rule. In Christian thought, Paradise became known as the intermediate resting place for the souls of the righteous dead.
Colossae was located in the Lycus Valley, in today's southwestern Turkey. In the mid-first century a Christian community existed there, perhaps founded by Epaphras (Colossians 1:7-8). The precipitating cause of the letter, written by Paul or possibly a disciple, was the appearance of a philosophy or tradition that was troubling because it suggested that Christ was not all-sufficient to the spiritual needs of the Colossians.
The precise nature of the Colossian heresy has been much debated: some were demanding circumcision (2:11), the keeping of sabbaths, new moons, festivals and dietary restrictions. But the inspired author insists that men and women have no need to retreat from the world into some esoteric cult or practice to live good and upright lives. Here and now they have the power, from Christ and through their baptism, to live a high degree of morality. This is what it means to live in the kingdom of God's Son.