First Reading: 2 Samuel 5: 1-3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5
Second Reading: Colossians 1:12-20
Gospel: Luke 23:35-43
At first glance today’s Gospel seems to make no sense. A crucifixion reading so close to Advent and a torturous death connected to the majestic title of the Solemnity of Christ the King. This gospel is about death, not anticipating new life; it’s about the utter destruction of a human, not the exaltation of a king. If we place ourselves among the people who stood by watching (v. 35), we hear the leaders mocking and the soldiers jeering. Those with power and swords referenced his healing miracles to amplify the contrast of his crucifixion. Even the man dying next to Jesus found a way to disparage him, though with the caveat, “Save yourself and us!” The end of this man Jesus must have seemed so obvious to all. What had been a great beginning was to end in humiliation and defeat.
Yet even as we read that one leader mockingly referred to Jesus as the ‘chosen one,’ biblical scholars tell us this is the same way Jesus was spoken of at the Transfiguration. Perhaps the call is to hear more. Another man, also dying a horrible death next to Jesus, saw and heard something else. He must have known something about Jesus, for he contrasted his own guilt with Jesus’ innocence. The man hanging saw his own truth and the truth of who Jesus is. He then made a request that was as illogical as it was full of faith. He asked a dying man to remember him when he entered his kingdom. He wasn’t kidding, jeering, or mocking. He was asking. What could the man have seen and heard to make him ask such a thing of Jesus? Perhaps the very same things the rulers and soldiers did — but with different eyes, ears and heart.
And the response from Jesus was as consistent in his dying as it was in his years of walking from village to village. He acknowledged the man’s faith and promised healing. Jesus welcomed him into his kingdom.
We see here a king who shows us what leadership looks like: love, service, inclusivity, forgiveness, reconciliation. There is no length to which God does not go to love, to reconcile all to God. The Chosen One always chooses us. While not seeking to suffer, this suffering servant king forgives us and calls us to wholeness and holiness. In his letter to the Colossians, St Paul, whose writing is sometimes referred to as the gospel of reconciliation because of his emphasis on this theme, speaks of God reconciling all through Christ: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
Where does this leave us? We cannot remain onlookers. In v. 48 we find that even they returned home in repentance (v48). God reaches out to us in our realities, longing to love, heal and create anew in us. If there is no length to which God will not go to restore us, this is also how we are called to go out to all the earth, preaching this message by our lives and finding ways to build reconciliation and peace. We cannot do so on our own — only with a God who journeys with us, who knows our lives. We see what leadership looks like — love, service, inclusivity, forgiveness, reconciliation — and can follow this example.
In the Advent weeks to come the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel” will probably find itself in our liturgies. As we sing we remember that this promise is fulfilled, that God is already with us, creating and inviting us. So we go — out to witness by our lives this Love incarnate!