35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[a] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[b] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There seems to be quite the transition from the first reading, where David is now accepted as King of the twelve tribes, to Jesus hanging on the Cross. His kingship is portrayed only as a mockery by the rulers, soldiers, and the people present. The rulers taunt him regarding his apparent powerlessness. The soldiers had costumed him with a crown of thorns and a reed scepter in jest of his kingship. Pontius Pilate had a titulus placed above the Cross with the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (Jn 19:19).
From the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture for the Gospel of Luke:
The rulers also derisively refer to Jesus as the chosen one (see 9:35), a title pointing to another biblical passage that sheds light on the crucifixion: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, / my chosen one with whom I am pleased” (Isa 42:1 ❲emphasis added❳). Jesus is this †servant foretold by Isaiah (Isa 52:13) who at his crucifixion is “counted among the wicked” (Luke 22:37, quoting Isa 53:12). Moreover, Moses was also called God’s “chosen one” (Ps 106:23). At the transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses about his “exodus” to take place “in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31), and the voice from heaven referred to him as the “chosen Son” (9:35). This exodus of God’s chosen one is now being accomplished.
We can look at this scene and want to deride those who mocked him as he revealed his kingship. Yet, I can think of all the instances where I have either mocked his kingship or lessened it. The times I have made idols of the things of this world.
“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Lk 20:25)
I know how often I need to get this balance right. I am rendering too much to Caesar, trusting too much in fixing everything via political processes. Forgetting that Jesus is indeed King and that I should always give glory to him first and strengthened in discerning my Caesar rendering and never forget that I am a subject of Christ the King first and always. Instead, I try to caveat the call to love my enemies, thinking this does not apply to those I disagree with politically. I am dehumanizing those who are also subjects of Christ the King.
Our forgetfulness of Jesus’ kingship and the priority of Christ is nothing new, but perhaps our amnesia has deepened. Dr. Brant Pitre points out Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, On the Feast of Christ the King ❲December 11, 1925❳. This encyclical letter instituted this Feast.
In the first Encyclical Letter which We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate to the Bishops of the universal Church, We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was laboring. And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.
Still, we can always move our faces to Jesus. Despite how we have darkened our life in sin, Jesus is always ready to receive us and to restore us to the true human dignity that he has given us. In Matthew and Mark, both thieves on Calvary mocked Jesus. In Luke, we see a point of conversion where one thief repents his mockery and his own life and, as a result, rebukes the other thief. Grace moves him towards Jesus while not diminishing his sinfulness. In his humility, he sees the humanity of Jesus and something more. He recognizes Jesus is indeed King and is desirous of his kingdom, which is not of this world. He asks, only to be remembered as Jesus arrives in his kingdom. Sometimes our eyes are only opened via suffering when we move out of the orbit of our ego and see those around us. The repentant thief looked beyond his pain and suffering and saw Jesus before him.
From Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s classic Life of Christ.
A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom; a thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption, but in the Divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into Paradise. If Our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief’s request touched the reason of His coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer:
“I promise thee, this day thou shalt be With Me in Paradise.” (LUKE 23:43)
It was the thief’s last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything. When even the disciples were doubting and only one was present at the Cross, the thief owned and acknowledged Him as Savior. If Barabbas came to the execution, how he must have wished that he never had been released, and that he could have heard the words of the compassionate High Priest. Practically everything about the Body of Christ was fastened by nails, or tortured by whips and thorns, except His Heart and His tongue—and these declared forgiveness that very day. But who can forgive sins, but God? And who can promise Paradise except Him Who by nature is eternal to Paradise?
The two thieves, on each side of Jesus, were at a cross-road, and I intentionally mean the pun of cross-road. Suffering can turn us inward or outward. If we have been prudent in following the narrow road that leads to Christ, we can still narrow in on him and others. To open ourselves to the grace that is constantly given to us.
CCC §1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul—a destiny which can be different for some and for others.
- The Gospel of Luke, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Rev. Pablo T. Gadenz
- Life of Christ
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition
- Photo by Ben White on Unsplash