Luke 23:35-43
Christ the King  
by Rev. William P. Saunders

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Luke wrote to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

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."

Our Gospel for the feast of Christ the King takes us to the crucifixion. Here, the only throne for Christ the King is the cross; the only crown is one of thorns; the only scepter is the nail piercing his hands; the only crimson robe is the blood coating his skin. One might therefore ask, “Why this Gospel on the feast of Christ the King?” 

The answer: Here is the final battle, and victory is at hand. Jesus Christ, our divine savior, entered this world, humbling himself and taking on our own humanity, so that by grace, we would share his divinity.  Through his words and deeds, he perfectly revealed God’s truth and love to us. Only he, true God who became true man, could take the burden of our sins and offer a perfect sacrifice that transcends time and forgives sin — sins of the past, present and future. And through his resurrection, he conquered sin with forgiveness, transformed suffering into redemptive love, vanquished death with everlasting life in heaven, and defeated falsehood and evil itself with truth and love. Each time we look at Our Lord on the cross, we see the victory of Christ the King.

However, Christ the King does not impose his rule on anyone. Each of us in our life has to decide whether to accept Christ as our king and stand with him at the cross as did our Blessed Mother Mary, St. John the Apostle, and St. Mary Magdalene, or to reject him and stand with the “rulers.”

So who were these rulers? Those who thought they had power: the religious leaders, who wanted to conform God’s word to fit their lives rather than conform their lives to fit God’s word; Pontius Pilate and the soldiers, who served Caesar and whose modus operandi was “crush the opposition”; the fickle crowd, who chanted on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna in the highest,” and then “Crucify him, crucify him” on Good Friday; and the thief, who blamed everyone for his situation except himself.

They looked up at Jesus and said, “Save yourself. Come down from the cross, save yourself, and then we will believe.” In other words, abandon the truth and lower the standard; renounce your identity; conform to some political party or ideology; follow the crowd; think only of yourself, take care of numero uno, and live for this present moment; and play the victim and blame someone else. In their thinking, they did not need him, they did not need saving, they did not need a savior, but they wanted him to become like them. The “rulers” were actually the ruled — slaves of selfish desires, ideologies, political powers, peer pressure and popular social norms.

Sadly, too many Christians today chant, “Save yourself. Change the teachings on the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the sanctity of family life. Change the teachings, then we will believe.”

If Our Lord had come down from the cross, they would not have believed. They would have walked away and said, “You are just like us. What is there to believe in?” Our Lord would have been so relevant he would be irrelevant. And his kingdom? Just like Rome, rubble. Remember Our Lord said, “What profit would it show a man if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process?” (Matt 16:26).

Our Lord stayed on that cross. In the end, one justly condemned criminal renounced “the rulers” and found salvation: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The good thief found a Savior. He finally found a kingdom of truth, peace, justice and love. He died free. We know the good thief as St. Dismas. A victory.

Therefore, on this feast of Christ the King, pledge your life to him, and he will give you life and genuine freedom. Stay with him, and he will remain with you. Remember him by your prayer and worship, and he will never forget you. We cannot save ourselves; only Jesus can save us. Only he can make sense of this life. With Christ, we will find true happiness, peace of heart, and real fulfillment, and one day, we will share in his glory. As St. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on a merited crown awaits me” (II Tim 4:6-8).