Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

“THE CRUCIFIED KING”
Luke 23:33-43
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
(Christ the King Sunday; Proper 29–Between November 20 and 26 Inclusive)
analysis by Mike Hoy


33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are going.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


DIAGNOSIS: Criminals

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Criticism
Scoffing, deriding, mocking . . . everybody’s doing it (or just about everybody in this gospel text). If we translate this behavior into our late-twentieth century patterns, we would probably call it “criticism”–sometimes hostile (destructive), sometimes challenging to its recipient (“constructive”), but always important to keep “the world” going. Indeed, criticism is one of God’s own vehicles for carrying out his Law. Nonetheless, criticism, for all of its advantages, also always ends up being defeating and demeaning.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Fated
One of the thieves being crucified with Jesus is able to perceive what is at the heart of all this critical attack on Jesus–at least for one of his fellow thieves, and, more than he realizes, for the other critics. “You (and I) are under the same sentence…” What this ultimately says about life as it is lived is that there is some degree of “fate” in all of this. The Greeks knew a lot about fate; the Romans knew how to inflict it; the Jewish leaders were ignorant of that truth–but demonstrate fatalism in their behavior. Why else put someone else down unless you don’t have enough self-confidence, self-esteem to look at life differently? If “fate” rules the hearts of one and all (even the legal variety of the Jewish leaders), then cruel behavior can follow.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Condemned
But it is not simple fate that rules the cosmos (or the heart). Such “fate” is only a sign of a much worse problem–that we are condemned. Such condemnation is not simply a condemnation to fate’s results, or simply to the judgement of the state (Roman or otherwise). The condemnation, as understood by the thief at the cross, is a just condemnation before God: “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23). All who suffer from fate’s Law experience that curse of condemnation, “getting what we deserve for our deeds.”

PROGNOSIS: Royalty

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: En-Titled
The title placed over the cross of Jesus is too precious to be only a mark of derision. It does, in fact, describe the true nature of his kingship. By himself undergoing “the same sentence of condemnation”–and precisely in this venture–Jesus the Christ carries out his kingly rule for “the Jews” (understood in his more inclusive category of “all the faithful”). People are not subjected to the judgement or fate of condemnation. The King speaks in own crucifixion a different verdict: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Remembered
The prayer of the faithful (“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”) comes by knowing and addressing their King by name, and daring to invoke the royal remembrance of who he/she is–not simply as sinner (and justly so), but as those for whom the King himself deigns to dwell and take his place by their side. Now one may look to this King and say with confidence, “You and I are under the same sentence,” having the faith to mean by that statement that you will share with the King in his eternal glory.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Above Criticism
For us, there comes now the ultimate irony in the faithful thief’s remarks. What were intended as kind words on behalf and in defense of Jesus turn out, in light of the King’s place by our side and in our defense, the final turn-around. When God looks upon us, we are those who are seen as having “done nothing wrong.” And not only are we perceived this way by God, but we get to live as those who can do no wrong–as divinely ordained princes and princesses, kings and queens who withstand the criticism and bring that royal strength into the lives of others.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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