THE KING AND THE CRIMINAL

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

THE KING AND THE CRIMINAL

November 21, 2010
Feast of Christ the King

Today‚s readings:
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Jesus is our King and is the Lord of all. The Romans condescendingly put an inscription on the cross that read, „This is the King of the Jews.‰ (Lk 23:38), not knowing that they had actually proclaimed the truth for all the world to see.

But today I want to focus on the criminals crucified with Jesus. We have two contrasting responses of the two criminals. One reviled Jesus, the other submitted himself to the lordship of Jesus. We too are always given that choice. And though at times we do not necessarily revile Jesus, if we do not fully accept his lordship over our lives, then we are in effect actually doing so. There is no middle ground. If we are lukewarm, Jesus spits us out of his mouth (Rev 3:16). If we say „Lord, Lord‰ but do not do the will of God in our lives, then Jesus regards us as evildoers (Mt 7:21-23).

Now here is a very interesting thing. To the criminal who honored Jesus, Jesus said something very radical. „Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.‰ (Lk 23:43). Wow! What we all long for, to be with Jesus eternally in heaven, he granted to the criminal. And it was to happen that very day!

Was the criminal no longer to pass Purgatory? All do so, because of our sins such that we need to be purified before entering into the holy presence of God. All, except for a very few exceptions. There of course is our Mother Mary, who was assumed into heaven upon her death. Being immaculately conceived, she had no need of further purification. Then perhaps there was also Elijah. He was taken by a flaming chariot and flaming horses and „went up to heaven in a whirlwind.‰ (2 Kgs 2:11).

Sometimes I think that with regard to the criminal, he may not necessarily have gone to heaven immediately like Mary and Elijah. Peter says that „with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.‰ (2 Pet 3:8). So when Jesus said to the criminal that today he would be with him in Paradise, that could have meant one day or one millennium! The criminal might have still found himself in Purgatory for 721 years and 127 days! (I am being facetious).

Whatever it is, the indisputable fact is that the criminal was assured by Jesus himself that he would be with him in Paradise. No one has ever been assured by Jesus himself in that way.

What is Jesus teaching us in all this?

First, God does want us in heaven with Him eternally. Not just Mary and Elijah, but the criminal as well. God reaches out to the sinner and the saint, to the great and the lowly. We just need to repent of our sins, accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and strive to live our lives according to God‚s ways.

Second, God accomplishes our salvation through the cross. It is the intent of God „through (Jesus) to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.‰ (Col 2:20). The cross is central to our faith and is the very instrument of our salvation. If we are to have authentic faith, if we are to be true disciples of Jesus, then we must „take up (our) cross daily‰ (Lk 9:23).

Third, taking up our cross is a great privilege. We walk along the very path of Jesus. We take on his mind and not the values of the world. Remember James and John, who with their mother asked for places of honor at the right and the left of Jesus (Mt 20:21)? What was Jesus‚ reply? He said that they would drink the cup of suffering that he himself was to drink (Mt 20:22-23). Now here was Jesus crucified, with two criminals at his right and at his left. They were afforded that great privilege of being crucified with Jesus, the very blessing that Jesus offered to James and John.

What about us? Do we sneer at and jeer at those who are giving their all for Christ (Lk 23:35-36)? Do we look only to what Jesus can do for us, rather than the other way around (Lk 23:39)? Have we lost our fear of God, not realizing that apart from Him we are subject to condemnation (Lk 23:40)? Do we embrace the cross of Christ or what the world offers? Do we rejoice in the privilege to suffer with him at his right and at his left, or avoid suffering and seek comfort even in our spiritual walk?

May we be like the good thief or criminal. May we always humble ourselves in the awesome presence of our Lord and Savior. May we strive to live our lives, such that we can cling to our eternal hope, and simply say to our Lord, „Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom‰ (Lk 23:42).

Rest assured about Jesus‚ reply: „Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.‰

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