The Unlikely King
Solemnity of Christ the King
November 24, 2019
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
from Luke 23:35-43
Why does Jesus appear to be so vulnerable, so powerless on the cross? Why is he willing to put up with so much abuse from ignorant people? Of course, as God, Jesus is not in and of himself vulnerable; but being also fully human he has made himself vulnerable for us. Of course, he can come down off that cross; of course, he can save himself. He doesn't need to be saved; rather, he has made himself vulnerable for a purpose so that I will have faith in him, so that I will love him. What is he waiting for? He is, waiting for my love, my act of faith. How frequently we do not understand the ways of God!
This Sunday’s liturgy presents Jesus as Christ the King reigning from a cross with two thieves on either side of him, which represent the two ultimate choices each of us must make in life. One thief acts just as we would expect a thief to act – he wills to remain in his sins; he is not going to change, even at the end. He has spent his life using other people and he thus perceives Jesus to be just another common criminal like himself, though Jesus has done nothing to him. His life choice has come down to hatred and a desire to hurt others, even while he's dying. This thief is making a final choice for hatred and death.
The other thief makes a leap of faith. He, too, has done evil in his life, but he is also truly sorry for what he's done; he sees that Jesus is innocent. He recognizes his opportunity and makes a final choice for life. He takes the risk and puts his faith in an unlikely king, one who appears to be only a common criminal like himself, though an obviously innocent one.
These same two “thieves” or tendencies are present within each soul – when the Lord may appear not to act in our lives in a timely manner or when he may appear powerless or weak, or his will does not correspond to our own. The temptation can be to mistrust God, to lose faith in or to abuse the Lord with my sins. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is also within us as a force for good, urging us to love and trust God in spite of our apparent circumstances, to ask his forgiveness, to allow the Lord to be merciful to us. And this is the way to paradise.
So this is why Jesus is nailed to the cross. This is why he is this kind of king. He does this so that we will have a moment to choose him when he appears powerless. He's not powerless – he simply made himself so for my sake, where he waits to be loved.