Luke 23: 33-43
Today in our church year, the Sunday before Advent, is designated “Christ the King”. The focus at the end of the year’s readings is on Jesus, King and Lord of all. We will then prepare to welcome him through Advent, with one eye looking forward to his coming again, and one eye open to his coming in human form 2000 years ago.
Today’s gospel reading is the end of that earthly life; crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.
John dares to use the theme of exaltation, being lifted up even as the battered body was nailed and then heaved up to be mocked and taunted. Lifted up so those who might look on him could find healing.
Luke tells us that, somehow, one of the criminals, probably an anti-Roman “terrorist” / freedom fighter / guerrilla, sees in this dying man something so profound that he believes that the Kingdom he has fought to achieve on earth is actually available in and through this dying wreck of a man. Despite the taunts of crowd, soldiers, even his crucified companion, this man whose life has been focused on the violent overthrow of Roman Occupation, for whatever set of motives, sees in Jesus something so life-changing (literally) that he asks Jesus to remember him. He doesn’t expect relief, nor does he hope for glory, just somehow that this “righteous” man would remember him. And what he hears are some of the most extraordinary words every uttered. “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Do we hear this voice, to us and to others (not least those that we may well not approve of!)? Do we see in this crucified person, the promise of God and importantly, the way of God; that the Kingdom will be fulfilled not by force of arms, nor will it be prevented by the force of arms from those who would build their own empires, however successful they might be temporarily.
They hung the sign over the Cross – “THE KING OF THE JEWS” – in irony and mockery: little did they know that they were proclaiming the deepest truth of all.
Revd Peter Reiss