In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said: "Here we are, your bone and your flesh. In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back. And the LORD said to you, 'You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.'" When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD, and they anointed him king of Israel.
Refrain: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord
1) I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the Lord."
And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem. (Refrain:)
2) Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. (Refrain:)
3) According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. 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.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
As we bring our liturgical year to a close today on the Feast of Christ the King, we might do well to begin with a look at what the word "king" means. Though we often hear in Luke's Gospel about the "reign of God" or the "kingdom of God," and though Jesus is often called "Lord," the title of "king" is given him only in the accounts of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the way to his passion.
Later, as his passion was beginning, the Evangelist says that the elders of the people, the chief priests, and the scribes "brought him before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, 'We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king'" (Luke 22:66; 23:1-2). Then, "Pilate asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' He said to him in reply, 'You say so'" (Luke 23:3).
The whole account of the Passion points toward the coming of God's kingdom. "When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I shall not eat it [again] until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you"' (Luke 22:14-20). (As you recall in our first reading, David enters into a covenant with his people and becomes their king.)
Then, as the apostles were quarreling "about which of them should be regarded as the greatest, " Jesus said to them: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those who are in authority over them are addressed as 'Benefactors'; but among you it shall not be so." And he added: "I am among you as the one who serves. It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (Luke 22:24-30).
Clearly, Jesus, according to Luke, intended to emphasize the radical difference between his kingship and that of the lords of this world who desire power, honor, or wealth. Nothing could point up the contrast more strongly than the crucifixion, the account of which we read today.
As today's passage continues, we hear those familiar words of the Good Thief: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom". First of all, did the man know that the name "Jesus" means "God saves"? We will never know and it really doesn't matter. But by addressing our Lord as he does in the last moments of his life, he is the model of all those who in anguish and distress at the moment of death utter, in an ultimate leap of faith and hope, the name that is above all other names, and from which comes salvation: "Jesus".
Then he says "remember me". In the Old Testament especially, the subject of the verb "to remember" is more often God than a human being. God is always the first to be called upon to remember. He is reminded to remember, among others: Noah (Gen 8:1), Abraham (Gen 19:29), Hannah (I Sam 1:19), his covenant (Exod 2:24; 6:5), his kindness (Ps 98:3), his mercy (Luke 1:54), human beings (Ps 8:5; Heb 2:6) and the sins of his people (Hos 8:13), but also our love (Jer 2:2), our prayers (Acts 10:4), and our generosity (Acts 10:31)." It is an appeal to the living and present God, with the assurance that he desires and has the power to save. On the lips of one condemned to death by human justice, it is the striking prayer of assurance that despite one's confessed sins, God will save.
One last point: in his response to the thief's request, Jesus tells him "Today you will be with me in paradise". Luke insists on the "today" of salvation. In a few weeks, we will hear the words "For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord", which is the good news announced to the shepherds at Bethlehem (Luke 2:11). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus, in the synagogue of his hometown in Nazareth, having read the passage from the prophet Isaiah that announces a year of favor from the Lord, proclaimed: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21-Third Sunday). At the house of Zacchaeus, who promised to give half his belongings to the poor and make reparation to anyone whom he had cheated, Jesus declared: "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9-Thirty-first Sunday). We will come back to this shortly. (1)
So what does all of this mean to us? We noted earlier that Christ's kingdom has nothing to do with power, honor or wealth. If that is so, then what is it all about anyway? Well, if we look at the verse which immediately precedes where the gospel picks up today, we will hear Christ's first words from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". And then in our passage today, the soldiers taunt him with the words "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." Therein lies the whole point of Christ's life on earth: he became one like us, not to save himself, but to save us and to enable us, as he said at the Last Supper, to "eat and drink at my table in my kingdom".
In essence, Christ's life on earth was lived for others. He relinquished his self to live for others. We are called upon to do the same. Especially as we enter upon another season of Christmas buying madness, we need to constantly remind ourselves about where our true values should be. The world constantly screams at us "Think of yourself! Look out for number one!" But Christ has shown us the way to true happiness, and it doesn't come from anything in this world. The author C. S. Lewis, my all-time favorite, puts it this way:
- "Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours."
Listen to that last line again: “Nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours.” Whenever I conduct a wake service, I remind everyone that none of us really dies until our memories are gone from the hearts of all those who survive us. That is why we all yearn to be remembered after we have passed on, just like the Good Thief on the cross. Let me now finish that quote from Lewis:
- Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in." (1)
This is the first lesson of today's gospel, that our gaining of eternal life begins with our relinquishing of the things of this world. The second lesson also flows from the example of the Good Thief: it is never too late to make a conversion, to turn our lives around and better arrange our priorities. We do not know what the Good Thief did in his life which ultimately brought him to Calvary and the cross on that fateful day, but we can rest assured that it wasn't something of which he was too proud. (After all, he does confess to the other thief that they are receiving what they deserved for their deeds.) The thief asks only that Jesus remember him when he comes into his kingdom. And yet, just because he calls upon Jesus in his dying moments, our Lord promises not only to remember him in the next world but that today he will be with him in Paradise. At least the thief can die in peace.
It is the same for us. As long as there is breath in our bodies, forgiveness and salvation are always a possibility. As long as there is a "today", then conversion can happen. And our Lord will not only forgive us our sins but bring us to live with him forever. All we need to do is to remember that life consists of being with Christ because where Christ is, there is the kingdom.
I would like to close with the words of a song that you should know very well, one that has brought much comfort to those who have just lost a loved one to their eternal home:
"The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness fails me never.
I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever."
May you too find Christ today.
1. Adapted from Days of the Lord, Volume 6, pp. 314-315, 317-318, copyright 1991 by the Order of St. Benedict. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. All rights reserved. These excellent commentaries on the readings for each of the Sundays and major feasts of the three-year cycle are available at a discount, either individually or in a specially-priced seven volume set, through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
2. From Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis, p. 190. The MacMillan Company, New York, NY.
(Copyright 2013 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you are the King of heaven and earth. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you reign in glory at the right hand of the Father. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you died on the cross to enable us to be with you one day in Paradise. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Even from the cross, Christ answered the prayer of a dying thief. Confident that he will hear us, we bring our prayers to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, lead us to life."
That the leaders of the Church will be ministers of forgiveness in the lives of others, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world, will work towards a peaceful resolution of their differences, we pray to the Lord.
That all prisoners and those condemned to death will find comfort from the God who forgave a dying thief, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who cherish the things of this world may come to find true happiness in seeking God's kingdom of love, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will welcome our deceased relatives, family and friends into Paradise with him, we pray to the Lord.
That all those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause.) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Merciful Father, you sent your only Son to lead us to eternal life. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to forsake the things of this world for an everlasting reward in heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.