Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
It is the words that mock Jesus in the Gospel for today that presents for us the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. The passage tells of the threefold mocking of Jesus, by the religious leaders of society; by the soldiers and by a criminal who in this case represents the lowest of society. Each of the mockers applies a title to Jesus ‘the Messiah of God, his chosen one’; ‘the King of the Jews’; ‘the Messiah’. Each taunt challenges Jesus to save himself if he is really the one, he claims to be. They tempt him to choose another vocation, to be different sort of King from his distinctive calling.
By his lack of response to those who mock him Jesus clearly remains steadfast in fulfilling the divine will through completing the mission he has from God by giving his life for the salvation of all humankind. The paradox of Jesus’ kingly mission is that he is a Messiah who saves others only by not saving himself. Jesus is resolutely committed to God’s plan – which includes betrayal and death.
Only in the powerlessness of the cross can Jesus demonstrate the authority that will rescue the religious leaders, those who mock him, criminals and us.
Refusing the voices of temptation, Jesus defines for us what King he really is. His kingship is not defined by the power of this world that relies on retaliation, competition, self-protectiveness and the like, but rather trust and obedience to the divine will that takes Jesus to the cross – and beyond.
The story of the Good Thief is found only in Luke’s Gospel. The irony is that the religious authorities lead the cries for Jesus’ death, where as the one person in the text that who perceives the truth and dares to speak it is the second criminal being crucified alongside Jesus. The thief acknowledges he deserves punishment, in contrast to Jesus who is innocent. He sees that Jesus will enter his kingly realm not by coming down from the cross, but by dying. The good thief sees that God will vindicate the King and bring him into his proper rule. The good thief represents those who seek a place for themselves in a realm where the keynote is pardon and not recompense, where the condemned can be fully restored.
Jesus assures the repentant thief that he will give him a share in his own destiny in Paradise. Our dying Saviour reveals once again that he extends his mercy even to those who can make no claim to merits of their own, and that the repentant sinner will never be excluded from his kingdom.
Rev Fr Stephen Berecz