Theme: We are given grace and forgiveness
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, today we observe the feast of Christ the King by recounting Jesus on his throne; may we always be filled with grace and forgiveness offered to us by Jesus, our Lord, through whom we pray. Amen.
Today we celebrate a strange paradox: Jesus as crucified king. Let’s look at this gruesome scene. Jesus looks like royalty. There is someone on his right and on his left. The sign over his head declares him to be the King of Jews.
Luke’s gospel is the only one to record the dialogue between the two who were crucified with Jesus. Luke introduces these two men as criminals (literally evildoers in the Greek) before the three condemned men arrive at the place of execution, The Skull. Luke calls them criminals, leaving us wondering what crime they committed to warrant crucifixion.
The fact is that, the Romans only crucified serious enemies of the state. In other words, only people who were threats to Rome’s dominance were crucified. To call the other two men criminals is sugar coating their conviction. They must have been seen, like Jesus was, by Rome, as threats to topple Roman rule of at least Palestine. Rome didn’t crucify thieves.
The first group to mock Jesus was the religious leaders. The soldiers were next to mock Jesus, even though they already did during Jesus’ scourging. They also tell Jesus to save himself if he is so important – if he is such a great king. The charge Jesus was convicted of was placed over his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” Rome was saying that if anyone else thinks they are a king, then take a good look at your throne.
The next to mock Jesus was one of the condemned men. He too said that a messiah should be able to save himself. I don’t think they were looking for a miraculous event where Jesus takes himself off of the cross. They were looking for an army to come rescue him. Only there was no army. Anything that might have looked like an army was hiding around Jerusalem.
It was the other condemned man who scolded the rebuker. He is asked if he has any fear of God. He reminds the other man that their sentence was justified – that Jesus did nothing wrong. Then he asks Jesus to be remembered when Jesus comes to his kingdom. A better translation is when Jesus comes into his regal glory. This is consistent with Luke’s emphasis that Jesus’ kingdom comes from within.
But this request to be in Jesus’ kingdom is very curious. It seems to come out of the blue. Did the criminal know Jesus previously? And if so, how did he gain some insight as to who Jesus is that so many others who heard Jesus failed to see? Jesus is a messiah who can’t or won’t come down from the cross. The criminal makes a deathbed request. Jesus honors the request and the criminal will be with Jesus in paradise.
Luke adds irony here. Three groups of people tell Jesus to save himself, but Jesus isn’t there to save himself. He is there to save us.
There is only one person who recognizes Jesus for who he truly is and that is a condemned man. The man’s request is the kind of request that is only made to a monarch. It is a royal request. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to respond, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” The gates of paradise are thrown open to this evildoer. Jesus forgets his past transgressions and gives the criminal a future filled with hope. Jesus forgives ignorance.
That’s how easy it is. All we have to do is to ask Jesus to remember us. All we have to do is to honor Jesus. If we do this, then we will join Jesus in Paradise – and I don’t mean the town east of Chico. Paradise is actually a Persian term for a walled off garden. This word is the one used in the Greek Septuagint translation for Eden. Paradise, Eden is our past and our future.
That is what God wants for us – to be in paradise or Eden. This is a place where there is no want and there is total harmony. It is a place of peace and love.
What really makes a king? What does a king look like when all the pomp and riches and power are stripped away? On the cross, a king has nothing to do with that. On the cross the only way to recognize a king is in the king’s power to pardon. Jesus’ throne is a cross. If we want to be with Jesus, we will be – in this life and the next. It begins with each of us. It begins within us. That is why Jesus didn’t come down from the cross.
Warren Cole Smith shares this story about the second Bush administration. In 2001 Tim Goeglein started running the White House Office of Public Liaison, providing him almost daily access to then President George Bush.
All of that ended abruptly on February 29, 2008. A well-known blogger uncovered the startling facts behind some of Goeglein’s published articles: 27 out of 39 of his written pieces had been plagiarized. When the facts came out, by mid-afternoon the next day, Goeglein’s career in the White House was over. “But I was guilty as charged,” Goeglein admitted.
For Goeglein, this began “a personal crisis unequaled in my life, bringing great humiliation on my wife and children, my family, and my closest friends, including the President of the United States.”
Although Goeglein was devastated, what happened next was an example of God’s providence and mercy. Goeglein was summoned to the White House to face the President. Once inside the Oval Office, Goeglein shut the door, turned to the President and said, “I owe you an … “
President Bush simply said: “Tim, you are forgiven.”
Tim was speechless. He tried again: “But sir … “
The President interrupted him again, with a firm “Stop.” Then President Bush added, “I have known grace and mercy in my life, and you are forgiven.”
After a long talk, a healing process was launched for Goeglein, which included repentance, reflection, and spiritual growth. “Political power can lead to pride,” Goeglein concluded. “That was my sin. One hundred percent pride. But offering and receiving forgiveness is a different kind of strength. That’s the kind of strength I want to develop now.”
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for your unconditional grace; may we accept your grace and, in turn, share that grace with others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 23:33–43 (NRSV)
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesuse there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”f And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiahg of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,h “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridingi him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?j Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come intok your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”