First Reading Jeremiah 23:1-6
Second Reading Luke 1:68-79
Epistle Reading: Colossians 1:11-20
Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43
Meditation: “A King Unlike any Other”
This passage seems like an odd selection for Christ the King Sunday.
Indeed, the inscription above Jesus’ head reads “This is the King of the Jews.” But this was placed over his head as public irony, an act of public shaming for the entire Jewish people. Roman soldiers mock him; Jerusalem leaders ridicule him. This is no “king” in the traditional sense. How true that is! The greatness and Majesty of this King is revealed best in this inhuman scene on a Roman cross. It stands in sharp contrast to almost everything we value as great in this world. Here there is no wealth, no power, no glamour or beauty.
Here even the first thief’s cry of – “save yourself and us” is uttered in utter ignorance of the truth and in derision. No one understood the truth of what was happening that day. Certainly not Pilate who in spite of declaring Jesus innocent, condemned him anyway. His placard placed on the cross was an insult to the Jews who demanded his death, not understanding. The Crowds standing by didn’t understand, nor even the disciples who had fled in fear and confusion. Perhaps the second thief may have had just a glimmer of insight, when he recognized Jesus’ innocent suffering and asked to be remembered. We simply don’t know what he may or may not have known about Jesus’ ministry and teaching. We only know that he acknowledged the justice of his fate and placed his hope in this very different sort of King.
Today, at the end of the Christian year. We pause one last time to consider just who is this one whom we call Savior and Lord. So many images compete for our attention. The Old Testament references the one whom God would send to fulfill the covenant with Israel and bring righteousness and justice to the world. Jeremiah’s words of Hope, promise and restoration in spite of present threat and destruction, Mirror the situation of the repentant thief in some ways, yet point to a majesty and power that seems so different from the one suffering on the cross. Still, it is how God fulfilled the promise.
At the birth of John the Baptist, his father sings in praise of God for both his son John but also for the promise of the one he is to herald – A light to the darkness and a guide into the way of peace – neither here nor in the fields with the Shepherds and angels can we see the shadow of the cross – but it is there nevertheless. Paul writes of the glory of the incarnation – the cosmic place of our Savior – the instrument of creation and the very image of God in Human form – ruler and sustainer of all. Majestic images indeed. Yet he is also proclaimed as the first born from the dead and the one through whom God reconciled all things to God’s own self. This was accomplished through the most remarkable event in history – his death on the cross.
The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not like any of kingdom we have experienced. His rule is expressed in Humility and ultimate self giving. He does NOT help himself, he helps those who cannot help themselves. He does not meet evil with evil, force or violence – but repays evil with good and even forgives those who have nailed him to that cross, not understanding the evil that they did. He even offers hope to one justly condemned even in the midst of horrible suffering. In this way, we are introduced to our undeserved righteous status before God. In this way, we meet the king of Glory – Not in the halls of Influence, Not in wealth or Prestige or Might, but on the cross where the power of sin and death was broken for all who will but here the invitation and come and ask in hope and faith.
This is who we are Children of God by the grace of the cross. We are saved by this most unlikely King who feeds the hungry, heals the sick, calls the unlikely and the unqualified, who gave up all dignity and position to come to us as one of us. The Mystery of that event is beyond comprehension and that is indeed the point. The thief didn’t have any more than a faint recognition of who Jesus might be, and yet that was enough. Jesus promised him a place in Paradise. It has been said that there will be three surprises in heaven: Those we are surprised to see, those we are surprised not the see and those who are surprised to see us! We are all debtors to grace, it’s the only way that we come to our King.
Only after his resurrection did Jesus explain the scriptures to the disciples so that they and we might begin to understand the plan of God put in place from the very beginnings of creation for the redemption of the world – Foreshadowed from the pages of Genesis, given form in the ritual sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple, and prophesied in the Psalms and the prophets. Its all there for any who look with the eyes of faith, guided by the Holy Spirit, yet incompressible to anyone else.
Jesus will come again in glory as the King of the Universe to Judge the living and the dead and to restore the heavens and the earth to God’s original plan. But until that day, we follow our crucified Lord, a king like no other.