Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Our Royal Living
In his ordered account Luke distinguished the people from other actors in the crucifixion of Jesus. He did so with a compact sentence: The people stood by and watched. More important than what they saw, what did you see? On the solemnity of Christ our King the liturgy of the word guides our sight and sharpens our vision. I’d like to consider briefly what we can see.
Our King is not distant but very near us and attends us. One image of being near and attending was deeply rooted in Jesus’ Jewish heritage, and it transformed royal leadership. That image was shepherd: The Lord said to [David], “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” For Jews the name David recalled his story: the youngest son of Jesse, who was in the fields attending his father’s flock. His father considered David’s youth made it impossible that God would choose David, a boy and a shepherd-boy at that, to be Israel’s second and most storied king. Ruling was forever qualified by shepherding, a vigilant, selfless and compassionate role. Shepherd qualifying King runs deep in our Christian tradition. Doesn’t Good Shepherd fall from our lips more often than Christ the King?
Luke invites us to see our shepherd-king performing his last earthly vigilant, selfless, compassionate acts from the throne of his cross. What can we see and hear when gazing on our shepherd-king on his cross?
First, we notice rulers, who opposed Jesus throughout his ministry, sneering at Jesus for their final time. They addressed him correctly as Messiah, Hebrew for the chosen one, the Christ of God. They couldn’t conceive of God working beyond their earthbound imaginings.
Soldiers also jeered, calling Jesus King, probably because of the sign atop his cross. They didn’t know they were correct for these enforcers of Roman domination thought all kings were shams save their Emperor. Like the rulers of the Jews, the soldiers’ earthbound imaginings enmeshed them and their hearts.
Even one of the criminals hanging on his cross reviled Jesus. His words suggest he, too, was a Jew for he insulted Jesus as God’s Christ and expected salvation by the Messiah to be just as earthbound: the Messiah would reverse Roman domination and spring him despite the criminal’s crime. Rulers, soldiers, one criminal: no crucified messiah for them!
Yet the other criminal admitted and asked. He admitted his guilt; he admitted that Jesus did nothing criminal; and he admitted and recognized what the rulers and soldiers could not: that Jesus was indeed king. We recognize what he recognized by what he asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus exercised the royal prerogative of every king in every age--even all our presidents. Jesus pardoned the criminal who asked him. More, Jesus assured him he would accompany Jesus that very day into his kingdom of Paradise.
Jesus’ pardon of the criminal at the close of the crucifixion scene bookends its opening. “Father, forgive my accusers and crucifiers, they know not what they do.” As we stand before Jesus on his cross, does his request of his Father and his reply to the criminal who asked shock us? Are we uncomfortable? Do we envy the criminal who asked? that Jesus would respond so compassionately? Does Jesus insult our sense of fairness? Does he embarrass our puny pardoning abilities?
When I consider those questions in the light of my ability, I answer, Yes, to each. Two things about Jesus’ compassion St. Paul reminded us: first, it’s beyond anyone’s ability; and second, we exercise Jesus’ compassion because it is a gift: The Father of Jesus qualified us to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light...and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son who is the forgiveness of our sins. Qualified and transferred out of love for us, not by our doing.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week pause to grow more aware of the Trinity lovingly creating you. Trace the sign of Jesus’ cross on yourself, and ask the criminal who asked Jesus' help to make you more open and honest in your prayer. Converse with Jesus in your words about his desire always to forgive and welcome you. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which helps us imitate Jesus’ vigilance, selflessness and compassion. We extend the shepherd-kingship of Jesus to our world each time we imitate his vigilance, selflessness and compassion.
Wiki-image of David anointed king and Wiki-image of Jesus between the felons are in the public domain.