The Powerless King on the Cross

Solemnity of Christ the King – November 24, 2019

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke (23:35-43)

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.”


How would you imagine a king?

Being influenced by cartoons, anime and movies, I would imagine a king who wears a golden crown, covered in a golden robe, sitting on a golden throne and living in a golden palace. A king is a powerful man who has thousands of armies, who conquered many nations and defeated countless enemies through bloody wars. He is untouchable – and commoners, slaves and servants cannot talk to him directly. His throne is too far from the ordinary people.

This is not far from how we imagine Jesus Christ our King. Influenced by the western culture we also imagine Christ the king who wears a golden crown, wrapped in a golden robe and sits on a golden throne. This image, for me, seems to be a distant king who does not know the daily affairs of his people. A king who merely shows greatness, triumph and wealth.

However, the Gospel that we have heard today speaks nothing of this kind of king. What we have is a vulnerable king, powerless and crucified on the cross. This is Jesus’ statement that he is not an earthly king who only shows grandeur, control and domination over his subjects. He is a king who became like us, who lived with us and journeyed with us in every story of our life especially in those difficult and dark moments.

He is not an unreachable king sitting there on the high throne but he is a God-with-us (Emmanuel). He is a king who knows us and our deepest secrets and desires. But he is a king who does not control and imposes himself on us. He only calls and invites us to come to him.

Jesus’ determination to call us and to gather us brought him into that situation. Despite the danger and of the suffering he would endure, as king, he is always ready to take the risk to offer his life for our sake, that we may experience freedom and healing. We find his invitation through the three different people in the Gospel and their individual response to Jesus. So, let us look at them.

First, the people like the Jewish authorities and the soldiers. They refused to recognize Jesus as King and Messiah because he was a threat to them, a threat to their comfort, and threat to their earthly power. It was a decision they have made despite the invitations of Jesus for them to believe in Him.

Second, one of the criminals who insulted Jesus. He was actually confused and did not make any stand. He was lukewarm. He neither condemned Jesus nor accepted him as Lord, King and Redeemer. Despite the closeness of God in him on the cross, he did not recognize God in Jesus because he was still full of himself. He was unrepentant.

Third was the other man on the cross. He was the one who recognized God in Jesus and decided to accept Jesus as his Lord. This made him say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Being powerless on that cross, he was able to recognize the face of the Lord, his king. This person felt a God who has accompanied him in his suffering and even towards death. Through his very suffering, he found God to be so close to him.

This tells us now of a king who is close to us. Jesus is not a king who is distant from our sufferings and fears but a king who patiently and lovingly walks with us. God, indeed, meets us where we are and he is ready to bend down in order to encounter us there in the saddest and darkest part of our life.

Yet, let us also remember that Jesus requires our participation. To every person Jesus met, he gave them the chance to recognize him but the hardness of their hearts and because of their arrogance, they refused to see Jesus. But with this other man on the cross, owning his sins and failures in life brought him into that realization that he was in need of God. Meaning, when we humbly recognize our weaknesses and sins we also recognize God’s love for us. This becomes, then, an opportunity for God to transform our life.

Thus, on this great feast of Christ our King, let us also own and recognize our failures and sins. This calls us not to be afraid because Christ will never condemn us to death. He already took it upon himself for us. What he wants is that we will enjoy his presence in paradise. 

And as Jesus identified himself with the suffering, with the dying, with the condemned, let us also expand our image of Christ the King. Let us encounter and recognize Jesus through the sick old person abandoned by his family, or those who have been affected by calamities, or a rejected and broken daughter or son who succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction, or to an abused spouse, or to a street family who are displaced or to a friend who suffers depression, or a classmate who is being bullied. Take time to meet those who might need our help in ways that we can do. And hopefully, that encounter will bring us into the experience of meeting Christ the King through others. Hinuat pa.

Jom Baring, CSsR


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