Feast of Christ the King
by Fr. Jack McArdle
GOSPEL: Luke 23:35-43
Today's gospel shows us our King on his throne of the cross, and the scene contains all the contrasts between the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom of this world. 'And ne'er the twain shall meet'.
Jesus was an extraordinary composite person. He was both human and divine, God and man, and he represented the balance between the vertical and the horizontal. The meeting of the two beams of the cross represented the meeting of the vertical (God and me), with the horizontal (me and others). His throne of Calvary was the meeting place for God and his people. It was no longer Moses and the burning bush. In a world that lays great stress on success, activity, power and achievement, it is worth noticing that Jesus was most powerful when he was nailed to a cross, and could do nothing, because that is where the father wanted him to be.
In his early childhood, Simeon had prophesised that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction. He certainly was on Calvary. From any human perspective this was failure of the worst kind. His enemies had him where they always wanted him, and they appeared to have achieved the upper-hand over him. In this is the whole paradox of the gospels. What the world discards is what God makes sacred. It is when we are weak that God strength is given the space and opportunity to operate.
It is ironic that what was intended as a token of mockery, a sign declaring him King of the Jews was placed over his cross. Pilate had asked him if he were a king, and he asked very simply "Yes, I am, and that is why I came". The problem here is that they are speaking a completely different language. It is not possible for someone with a worldly mind-set to understand the message of Jesus. Human judgement and comprehension is so narrow, so circumspect, so finite, that it is not capable of looking beyond the tangible, the visible, the commercial item. God's ways are not our ways, nor are our values his values.
The final two sentences of today's gospel contain a gem from the message of Jesus. This man may not have said a prayer in his life. However, with his dying breath he asked for help, and he was offered heaven. It is interesting to note how differently people reacted to Jesus. This came from some certain condition or disposition of their hearts. While one man mocked, the other prayed. The grace of the Lord is equally available to all, but the condition of the soil depended on whether the seed grew or not. Jesus had earlier spoken of the sower who went out to sow his seed. He scattered it in all directions, and he left the rest to the ground on which the seed fell. He had done his part.
The only way I can ever hope to get into the scene of today's gospel is through reflection and prayer. I can place myself right there, as I sit silently, and go down into my heart, where the Spirit dwells, and where all prayer begins. I can look at that figure on the cross, and contemplate that scene for any length of time, and become greatly enriched as a result. This is my Saviour, my Lord, my King, and my God. This is the source of all the grace we receive in the sacraments, and in many other ways. The streams of grace begin right there.
I have to check my mind-set against the mind-set of the world. In the Kingdom of Jesus, he is Lord, all of his people are equal, and life in that Kingdom can be lived only through the power of the Spirit. Because of him, my weaknesses can become my strengths, and my failures can be turned into blessings. I learn compassion through my brokenness, and I know his love through acknowledging my sinfulness. Jesus makes a particular point of turning issues on their heads. He can turn failure into victory, and weakness into power.
"Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom". What a simple prayer! It came from the heart, and that is why it drew such a response from Jesus. Jesus had come in search of those who were lost. Within the final moments of his live, this man allowed Jesus find him. Jesus would never intrude, or highjack anybody into being a follower of his. He is present among us, and the choices are ours.
This is a day for some serious prayer in the heart. If I want Jesus to set up his Kingdom within my heart, then I have to invite him to do so. "Lord, let my heart be your throne, and let me worship you there. For all the mockery you received on Calvary, I offer you the love and obedience of my heart. Lord, remember me, now that you are in your Kingdom. Let my name be registered as a member of that Kingdom."
I can measure my own life against the backdrop of today's gospel. I collect and gather my sins and brokenness, and I place them at the foot of the cross. The greatest thanks I could give Jesus for dying for me is to accept all that his death earned for me. "Here I am, Lord. You are my Saviour, and my Lord. I entrust to you all the failures of my past, and I place in your care all that life still holds for me."
If I put myself in place of the good thief, and look out through his eyes, what might I see? I certainly would be deeply conscious of my weakness, my powerlessness, and my total inability to manage the situation in which I find myself. There is only one way to turn, and that is towards Jesus. Only Jesus can do for me what I cannot possibly do for myself. It is for people like me that he came, and it is up to me to allow him find me. I stand before him exactly as I am, exactly as he sees me, and I cry out to him, "Lord, remember me……."
God was the composer of the music of the universe. He wrote a symphony of heavenly music, all in perfect harmony. To the birds of the air he entrusted the pan pipes. To the long grasses he entrusted the strings. To the clouds and the oceans he entrusted the percussion. He allocated sections of the orchestra to all parts of his creation. There was one section of his creation that he chose to treat differently, i.e., human beings. He had gifted them with reason and intelligence, and, therefore, there was no need to write a score for them, as they would know how to blend and harmonise, without receiving instructions.
The music began, and it was heavenly. The harmony was enchanting, and the sheer beauty of it all was breath-taking. Things continued like this for some time. Then, one day, there was a shrieking discordant note, that shattered the harmony of the universe. This was followed by complete silence. "What was that?" whispered the trees. The birds replied "That was people. They refuse to continue in harmony with the rest of us, and they have decided to do things their way". "What will he do now?" whispered the grasses. "He may tear up the whole score. He may write a new one. One thing is certain, he cannot pretend it didn't happen, because that discordant note will reverberate throughout the universe for all eternity."
And what do you think God did. He searched among every sound that ever was, until he found that discordant note. He took that note, used it as a
Theme, and he wrote a whole new score based entirely on that note. Out of that discordant note he wrote a whole new symphony of heavenly beauty, which we now call salvation. The whole story of salvation is based on our weakness and failure. Only God could think of such a thing!
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And That's The Gospel Truth copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.