This past Sunday was the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Church’s year. The Gospel reading gave me a mental and spiritual shaking:
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”Luke 23:35-43
Hearing this story from Good Friday proclaimed at a time when our secular lives are occupied with preparing Thanksgiving dinners and buying Christmas gifts, among other things, makes quite an impact doesn’t it? It forces us to pause and re-consider this time of year. It can be easy to get swept up in worldly activities and busyness. It is also easy to regard this time of year as a sort of pleasant countdown to Christmas and lose sight of the fact that the Advent season is meant to make us mindful of Christ’s second coming. Likewise, this end of the Church year is meant to make us mindful our the end of our own lives, when we will present ourselves to Christ the King face-to-face.
Of course, the story itself is extremely striking, no matter when we read or hear it.
What strikes me first is always the tragic irony. Christ the King–not only of the Jews, but of all Creation–is sneered at and mocked as a false king. And yet even as He hangs crucified, bearing the enormous indignity and the excruciating pain with infinite patience, He acts as a King, issuing pardon to the repentant criminal. He rules even from the Cross.
What strikes me almost as much as the graciousness of Christ, however, are the humble words of the repentant criminal. He recognizes that he has earned crucifixion by his own deeds. He, unlike Christ, is being punished justly. He does not ask Christ to save him or release him from his torments. He simply asks, “Remember me.” And Christ does so much more than that–Christ indeed saves him, far beyond any worldly means.
When I read this story and the repentant criminal’s words, I often think to myself, “I wish I were that humble and that radically converted!” It inevitably leads me to examine my life and how I have lived in relation to God and to my fellow man and my fellow creatures. I ask myself who or what has ruled over me, to whom or what I have subjected myself. I ask myself how humble and obedient I have been before God.
When I am really honest and forthright with myself, when I make a real effort of humility–recognizing myself for who and what I am–I realize how very far I have to go to truly be a subject of Christ the King. I realize how profoundly self-serving and self-centered I am, how very stingy and stubborn and prideful. I realize how many boundaries I have established and built up between Christ and myself and between other people and myself. I realize how many limits I have placed upon how far I am willing to follow Christ. Instead of freely and generously offering a simple fiat, I have tended to add lots of fine-print restrictions to my offering of self to God.
Is that really what I want to offer God when I stand before Him at the end of my life? What an absurd notion!
But the story of the repentant crucified criminal gives hope that it is never too late to change, never too late to turn to the Lord. There is no more merciful and magnanimous King than He who rules from the Cross! Let us kneel before Him, and let us thank, praise, adore, and worship Him! And let us thank Him and His Church for giving us this particular time each year–the Solemnity of Christ the King and the following week that leads up to Advent–to help us to examine ourselves and to consider endings. It is also a time to perhaps make some Church New Year’s resolutions!
Obviously, I have plenty to think about.
Many blessings to you all–and a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!