Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday will begin the new liturgical year in the Church calendar as we begin Advent. In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus is engaged by two criminals being crucified with him.
The first “reviled” him and demanded that if Jesus was who he said he was, that he would “save himself and save us!” There was no acknowledgment of his own transgressions. The other criminal acknowledged that they were justly condemned and deserved their fate on the cross. He recognized his sin and crime, and reached out to Jesus with deference, when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (cf Luke 23:35-43).
This second criminal recognized him as king and that his coronation would be his crucifixion. Jesus recognized this man’s contrition and welcomed him into his kingdom, for Jesus became the Messiah, the Christ, the King, through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Jesus, the Son of God, came among us to re-orient and to re-align the worldly order. Leadership would no longer be about the aggrandizement of the self nor to be lorded over at the expense of others. God was very aware of the suffering of his people. He sent Moses to free his people from slavery from Egypt and he sent his Son to free all humanity from slavery to sin.
Yet this freedom has a cost. Today we are reminded that we have a choice to make. Who are we to serve? Are we to serve Pharaoh or Moses, Pilate or Jesus, our self or God. If we seek to be free from the shackles of our slavery to sin, the choice is clear. We are to listen to the voice of the king of the universe, the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus the Christ, the King.
The reign of the kingship of Jesus is about a personal encounter. We serve Christ the King when we are aware of and accompany one another. We are not to be about bringing world peace, ending hunger, providing homes for all in some abstract utopian pursuit. We are to concretely and intimately treat each person we meet with dignity. We are to see Jesus in our midst: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-37). Jesus, our king, commands us to act as he lived, to be aware, to accompany, and to make a difference, one life at a time.
We may feel overwhelmed with our own struggles, let alone the present state of our country or weight of the world, but we do not have to bear the weight alone, nor are we expected to change the world. We just need to begin each day with a commitment to serve Jesus Christ our King. We do so when we resist the temptation to turn inward upon ourselves and instead adjust our attitude and focus outward. God is guiding us already through the love of the Holy Spirit he shares with us, we just need to receive his love, and choose to open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and to be willing to participate in his will.
What we need today, on this feast day of Christ the King, is to allow Jesus to re-orient, to re-align the order of our life. To do that we need to have the attitude of the criminal on the cross who admitted to his crime. We need to repent from the ways in which we have turned away from God and each other, and turn back to him. We need to follow the command of our Lord Jesus to be merciful, to be willing to enter the chaos of another, one person at a time.
Pope Francis shared with the 60,000 attending the Papal Mass in Bangkok, Thailand, a few days ago that we are to treat the marginalized as if they were our own family. In another stop, meeting with religious, he encouraged them to “think of yourselves as little tools in the Lord’s creative hands. He will be writing with your lives the finest pages of the history of salvation in these lands.”
This is the disposition and posture we are to have as well, to be as St Mother Teresa said, pencils in God’s hands in our everyday moments and in every encounter. And may the last words of the pages written about our lives on this earth be, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 25:43).
Photo: Pope Francis, a little tool in God’s hand, promoting interfaith encounters and dialogue. He is with his cousin, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at Was Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple, this past Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) Accessed from americamagazine.org