Illness tends to make people feel grumpy. When we don’t feel good, we naturally turn inward upon ourselves. We want this to be all over. We want to feel good again and to get on with the tasks and challenges at hand. Prolonged illness keeps some people grumpy all the time, while a surprising number of other people seem to be able to rise above their pain and distress and, sometimes even because of it, reach out to others. I know individuals in both situations and while I keep the first group in prayer, the second group amazes me. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is hanging on the cross. He was scourged, beaten, and crowned with thorns. It’s pretty safe to say that He is in pain and distress. He’s been “sneered at.” He’s being “jeered.” He’s being “reviled.” Was Jesus at that point grumpy and did He turn inward upon Himself? NO!
Three individuals are hanging on crosses, suffering and dying … one reviles, one begs for salvation, One promises Paradise. Indeed, only One can promise Paradise. Who but “the Christ of God” could make such a promise? Who but a divine King could reach beyond His own suffering and dying to bestow Life on another? Who but one totally innocent of evil could draw goodness out of one who is “condemned justly?” Three hang on crosses. One remains condemned. One is redeemed. One will rise from the dead … our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.
Although Jesus’ Kingdom is established from the very beginning of creation (see the Second Reading from the letter to the Colossians) and through the Davidic kingship (see the First Reading from the Second Book of Samuel), His reign is not one of power but of mercy, not one of self-service but of self-giving, not one of material wealth but of eternal salvation. His throne is a cross. Such a King the world has never seen. Through His suffering and death this King brings Life to all who are open to receive it. This King offers Paradise to all those who come to Him, accept His reign, and remain faithful to the will of His Father. This King remembers each of us and invites us to come into His Kingdom … into the eternal Life He won for us.
The cross is where we least expect a king to be. Yet this is where we find Jesus. The cross is where we ourselves least want to be. Yet this is how God’s Kingdom is established and where our discipleship begins: allowing ourselves to be crucified on the cross of self-giving. Jesus demonstrates His Kingship not by saving Himself, but by saving others. Jesus demonstrates His Kingship not by power but by loving assurance that Paradise awaits faithful disciples. Only by beginning here, on the cross, can our discipleship end like the Good Thief’s, hearing Jesus say to us, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The Good Thief said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” This Solemnity celebrates Christ as King. His Kingdom has come. We are living in God’s Kingdom now. We are called, however, not to simply pay homage to our exalted King, but to do as He did. This means that each day we must live in a self-giving way because only through goodness expressed in reaching out to others is God’s reign at hand. Living the Paschal Mystery means living the daily dying the cross demands. Just as the cross was the means to Jesus’ exaltation, so is the cross our only way into Paradise. When self-giving seems to swallow us up and we are tempted to choose a self-serving attitude, all we need to do is remember that the cross is the door to Paradise. This only way – the cross – is the way out of this life, crossing into eternal life. The only way.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!
~ Fr. Larry