Solemnity of the Christ the King C (21 November 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
In Luke’s gospel the death of Jesus echoes earlier portrayals of Jesus in it. I highlight two: Jesus as Prophet and Jesus as Savior. His death happened as Jesus had told his Twelve Apostles as they journeyed to Jerusalem and were less than 20 miles away: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon.”1 Jesus as Prophet remained in control even though to human sight he controlled nothing.
Jesus as Savior shone in mocking, accusations as well as a plea of faith. The rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Of course, we faithful hearers and readers of the gospel know that faith saved Jesus, no less than it saved those Jesus healed from infirmities, demons and exclusion from the people of Abraham. Even the soldiers jeered at him, using the accusation hung atop his cross, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
The criminals saw Jesus in two ways. One was desperate, the other captured by faith. The desperate one wanted Jesus to save himself so that Jesus would save him. The other criminal gasped to the desperate one that both were under the same condemnation. That’s a bleak translation of the Greek word, which could mean either sentence or judgment.2 All three of them were under the sentence of death by crucifixion. The ultimate judge of them and all humans was—and remains—God.
Even under contemporary state-sponsored executions, legal though immoral, the ultimate judge of all is given some space, a whisper of recognition: chaplains are allowed to be with those who accept them. No one knows how many guilty criminals faith has saved! We do know that faith saved Jesus: God raised him from death to save more than the “good thief.”
A close reading of the gasping “good thief,” as tradition has honored him, shows two efforts: one is evangelizing and the other is prayer. To honor God with reverent wonder is fitting always. The second criminal did not speak with condemnation to the first criminal; rather he evangelized him, In the time we have left, honor God the creator, judge and lord of all. First, the second criminal evangelized as did so many in the gospel and like so many after Jesus’ resurrection.
Also, the second criminal was, as I put it, captured by faith. Faith wraps all who are open to it in its saving robe. We name the voice of faith, its intimate expressions, prayer. The second criminal, who flanked Jesus, spoke intimately with Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Some might say he had no notion to whom he spoke for he did not address Jesus as Lord, Master or Teacher. His awareness exceeded human knowing because he was captured by faith. In the Third Gospel, those who sought Jesus to heal them used his personal name as did angels and demons, who recognized the identity of Jesus,3 whose name means the Lord saves.4 Indeed no worldly monarch, our Prophet, our Savior is our Lord, God’s Messiah.
The practical application of pondering the “good thief” crucified with Jesus moves us to consider: Do we allow ourselves to be captured by faith and to converse intimately with Jesus? Do we regularly pause in heartfelt reflection so that unlikely people and unlikely moments may evangelize us and lead us to live our Messiah Jesus’ kingdom? As Prophet our Messiah Jesus invites us to live by the code of his kingdom; as Savior our Messiah Jesus protects us with his risen life and leads us by his faith. Messiah Jesus accompanies us now until he welcomes each of us into his kingdom.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause to feel the Trinity embrace you. Ask the criminal, who spoke intimately with Jesus, to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for being your Messiah, Lord and Savior; ask Jesus for the grace to be captured by his faith, the faith of his body, the church, so you may live anew. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, thy kingdom come, on our lips echo the intimate conversation of Jesus and one of the criminals crucified with him. Deepening our habit of personally saying the Lord’s Prayer slowly increases our intimacy with Jesus and with others as we live day to day in his ever-dawning kingdom.
- Luke 18.31-32.
- See Thayer’s Lexicon.
- For angel Gabriel, see Luke 1.31; for demons, see 4.34 and 8.28; for people begging for Jesus to heal them, see 17.13; 18.38.
- Yeshua (= Joshua) is how Jesus was known. Jesus is from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua.