The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Just, Finally, Answer the Question

Are there extra points for being enigmatic to the end?

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43

For Sunday, November 24, 2013—Christ the King

This is the final Sunday of the Church year, designated as Christ the King Sunday—and I am not going to rant about the theological irony of the title. I am not going to roll my eyes and ridicule the designators of Christ the King Sunday, as I have done every year, from the pulpit, in print, on THQ and to my children as I put them to sleep.

Sure in the past I have pointed out the holy day/feast day was established in 1925, after World War I— in the face of growing nationalism and secularism — that Christ the King Sunday was intended to proclaim the headship, the ruler-dom of Jesus over all human institutions, political entities, every economic and cultural ethos (even then kingdoms were kind of on the way out). This is despite the fact that the gospel of John says straight out that Jesus took off out of there, because they were coming to make him their king.

But Not this Year

This year to the establishers of this duly designated day and to the Lectionariers who promote it I say, “Thank You.”

Yes, thank you Lectionariers, who I have lambasted in the past (see below), you are smarter than I previously assumed. You did not name the last Sunday of the Church Year Christ the King Sunday (I am sorry, before my present research I thought you did). No, you perhaps saw the same theological incongruity that caused me so much irritation. And that is why you chose this reading for this Sunday. It is almost as if you have heard my previous criticisms and responded.

All About the Question

This pericope is all about the question, and I am all about the question, and this one really is the ultimate question one might have at the end of this narrative.

There are actually six questions in these ten verses—all of them unanswered. First of all, the leaders scoffingly ask, he saved others, why can’t he save himself if he is the chosen one of God? Then the soldiers mockingly ask, if you are the king of the jews, why don’t you save yourself? The nailed above his head reads: this is the king of the Jews. Question mark implied. Then one of the criminals hanging beside him, in utter desperation or a very dark and accusing sarcasm asks the seemingly hardest question: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

The other criminal rebuked him, saying, Have you no respect? But that question still hangs there. Jesus say after, “today you will be with me in paradise,” but criminal one wasn’t asking about the afterlife, he was wanting some help getting down of that cross. He was wanting some salvation from the very real situation he was in. But Jesus doesn’t answer him. He answers the other guy who says, remember me when you come into you kingdom.

The Hardest Question

So what’s the question—some seem obvious, to be sure, but how about the underlying? Can you guess what I’m thinking? Can you propose an even better question?

THQ’rs, as we are transitioning the community to a new level of Questioning the Text, it’s time to step up, to get out of the woodwork and crank up the midrashic conversation going.

How do you read?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question. Russell’s researching his next book and has decided to let us in on the process.  Check out the latest at:

How do you read?