This gospel is an ironic one considering our feast day today. As is always the case, the last Sunday of the Liturgical year, we celebrate Christ as our King. This is not an ancient tradition, it comes from Pope Pius XI who saw that the world was turning away from God. He knew this was trouble for us. He was right, we know that the 20th Century was the bloodiest of all in the history of the human race.
Yet, when we look at today’s gospel, one would think that this is hardly the one that speaks to us of Christ as our King. Indeed, one image that comes to mind is that from Elie Weisel when he talks about how many of the victims in the holocaust would ask where God is in the midst of their suffering. One looking at a corpse hanging above the the prisoners said, “God is right there.” The sarcastic comment, however, is most similar to the one from our gospel.
Looking at the scene from a distance, our king is just one of a group of three low lifes who are like so many condemned to death by the Romans. The leaders of both the Jewish and Gentile communities are destroying these non-conformists, these enemies of the state. Two are thieves and in their mind one is a fool. Yet, when we turn the scene around and look at it, as Luke does, from the cross, we see a completely different image.
We see not Christ as another low life, but one offering salvation to the lowest of society. One accepts it one rejects it. We see Christ by his life calling those in the final stages of life to repentance, one chooses to repent, the other does not. We see Christ with those the comfortable in society reject. This is a lesson for us. Although we may give up on Christ, he does not give up on us right to the end.
However, we too have to turn this around. Our society is severely divided today. We have people of faith rejecting people without it. We have those who live what we call alternative lifestyles rejected by those who live the Christian faith. Yet, I don’t see anyone see Christ’s vision which is to make the constant invitation to all that they may open their eyes and see the true Christ with them at all times. If we just condemn those who reject our faith, then we are no better than the crowd calling on Pilate to crucify Jesus with the others.
The devil condemns in guilt. Jesus calls for repentance. The Devil accuses and destroys, Jesus convicts and forgives. The Devil tries to silence Christ, Christ speaks to us, even in silence. If Jesus is our king, then we must respond to him as his subjects. That means we need to see how to respond to those in our world against us in ways that are worthy His calling us his subjects.
The Pharisees found the easy solution and lost. Jesus and his disciples found the harder solution and won. Which path do we walk down? Are we going to condemn our enemies as not being in the light or are we going instead to seek to be in the light that we may invite our enemies to know our greatest friend. The choice is ours like the two thieves on the cross, how we choose determines whether or not we ever are with Jesus in paradise.