[Sunday Gospel, November, 24th 2013]
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.”
The liturgical year ends with a Sunday dedicated to Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Is Jesus a King? Are not we mixing politics and religion? It should be acknowledged that this celebration emerged in difficult times of political discussion, but today this is no longer a problem for us. Rather, we are glad that the Church is not bound to any political system; thus, it is free to spread the Gospel and prophetically denounce any injustice and oppression whosever the politician would be.
The celebration is still very suggestive given the biblical texts that the liturgy has chosen to give us today.
From Luke’s point of view, Jesus is merciful to the extreme, even at the time of his crucifixion. In our ears, the striking sentence echoes: “Forgive them, they know not what they do”, which is written in the preceding fragment.
Providing such a statement, we should keep quiet because forgiving and being merciful is easy when no one offends or hurts us. However, hearing that Jesus is forgiving on the cross itself and excusing his executioners could leave no one indifferent, and even more, it requires us to keep a moment of silence and reflection: am I able to forgive like him? Am I able to forgive, even if the offenses I receive are minor than that?
On the contrary, nobody remains silent in this fragment of the Gospel. It seems that everybody has something to say: authorities, soldiers, the criminal… Everyone was making firewood out of the fallen tree, insulting a man who is suffering, dying, naked and abandoned by all; a man who was unjustly convicted by a false court and an indifferent governor. It is easy to mock now! However, authorities were not so brave a few days ago, when Luke tells us that they wanted to kill him but were afraid of the people (Lk 22, 2). They have now got what they wanted: they have manipulated the crowd to ask Jesus’ crucifixion. The same crowd used to surround Jesus and ask him for his miracles! Isn’t it indignant?
In addition, authorities and high priests show a boundless hypocrisy. Notice the beginning of their mock: “He saved others.” They recognized Him! They realize that Jesus has saved others, has done good, has cured diseases, has expelled evil, has fed multitudes, has given hope to the oppressed, has offered to host the rejected ones. They recognized Him and did not care! Isn’t it even more indignant?
The Jewish authorities suggested a mock deal: “let Him save Himself.” In this way, they will be convinced that He is the Messiah, the Chosen One. This also shows their short-sightedness. They though, the Messiah would be powerful and triumphant, able to save himself. However, why would God send a Messiah who can save himself? Wouldn’t they expect the Chosen One to save people? Hadn’t they just recognized that Jesus was able to “save others”?
Jesus is indeed right: “they know not what they do.” The high priests didn’t understand Jesus’ mission; they didn’t understand anything out of their tight schemes and preconceptions.
Though, do we understand it? Isn’t it still a mystery that Jesus died to save us? Isn’t it a tremendous requirement that He gave his life to “show us the way forward”? Isn’t it revolutionary that He asks us to “follow him”?
Meanwhile, the Roman soldiers, who had little understanding of Judaism, wanted to make their comments too. In their opinion, Jesus was a rebel who considered himself king. According to their experience, kings were those who oppressed people, made profit from excessive taxes, and made the laws but didn’t have to keep them. Kings had just one mission: to save themselves.
The criminal didn’t want to do any less. He also butted in –at least with some interest – asking him to save them. Let’s not criticize him; whenever the torture, agony and death, the criminal was desperate and reacted with insults and recriminations.
However, Luke also invites us to read between the lines. So far, the three insults have told the truth: the high priests, the soldiers and the criminal thought that they were mocking Jesus, but they were in fact telling the truth without even realizing. Jesus did save others; Jesus himself is the Messiah, the Chosen One; Jesus himself is the king of the Jews. Luke wants us to think about this: while the adversaries think they are seeing a condemned, crucified and failed man, they are actually seeing the Messiah, the Chosen One, the King, the Saviour, since Jesus not only “saved others”, but also “is still saving” on the cross.
The last character is the only one who realizes. And he is a criminal too! But a repented criminal! A criminal who suffers the same punishment as the other, but he is not desperate. On the contrary, Jesus crosses his life in the most unlikely way and touches his heart; the criminal finds Jesus and asks him for help and for salvation at the last moment.
And oh wonders! Jesus saved the criminal right under the mockers’ noses. Jesus is truly “the One who saves,” not because “He saves himself” but because He is giving his life for love of all men and women, even criminals.
Jesus is the truly King of the Universe. Not because He has temporary government pretensions, but because He asks us to work our hearts out to build a home for everyone in the world. He rules because He was able to give his life for everybody. He rules in the opposite way to the powerful ones of the Earth. He rules by showing us the way of forgiveness, acceptance and love. We are also called to rule in this way; putting ourselves at the service of our society, sharing our values and beliefs, offering ourselves to build peace, justice and solidarity. He taught us. He was able to put it into practice.
This King is worth following!
Translated by: Rocío González Romero