Who is Jesus talking to when he says: Today you will be with me in paradise?
Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43
For Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010: Year C – Christ the King Sunday
Beautifully Problematic Feast Day
This is a beautifully problematic feast day.
Established, in 1925, between the two Great (sic) Wars — in the face of growing nationalism and secularism — Christ the King Sunday is intended to proclaim the headship, the rulerdom of Jesus over all human institutions, political entities, every economic and cultural ethos (even then kingdoms were kind of on the way out). Of course the text shows us that Jesus the Christ reigns in a very different way, over a different kind of Kingdom than those of this world.
Different Kind of Kingdom
This ten-verse section from Luke’s elaborate passion narrative shows a humiliation, not a coronation. This is not a triumphant sovereign taking his rightful throne, but a convicted criminal being mocked with the word “king.” While the Roman and Jewish leaders responded to Jesus’ challenge of their power with violence and retribution by making a sacrifice of him so as to restore a distorted balance of justice. Jesus’ reign over the Kingdom of God compels him to broker forgiveness for the powers and principalities that have condemned him to torture and death.
The dichotomy between these two kingdoms seems to be played out in the criminals strung up with him. One criminal joined the mocking soldiers, aligning himself with his own executioners and the power that drives the mechanisms of this world.
The second criminal says to Jesus, “Remember me when you come in to your kingdom.” Remember me as if I were someone who has been known. Not as something ill-used and discarded by the system. It is a dehumanizing kingdom versus a humanizing kingdom.
No Longer Enslaved
Jesus responds with the pronouncement, today you will be with me in paradise. One human being nailed to a cross assures another human being nailed to a cross that the kingdom of this world which has enslaved you by its systems will no longer hold you. You will return to the garden, to paradise.
It all seems so absurd. Is Jesus bestowing this salvation only on the one criminal, when he is surrounded by so many criminals, mockers, players, soldiers and sinners who are equally enslaved?
The Hardest Question
Who is Jesus talking to when he says, today you will be with me in paradise?