The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’
Did you know?
Points of interest and Catholic lore
- Crucifixes often have the letters INRI inscribed on them. These are the Latin initials for Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum,which means ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. These are the words that Pilate had written on the cross above Jesus.
- All four gospels state that Jesus was crucified between two thieves, but Luke is the only one that recounts this story of one of the thieves recognising and believing in Jesus. This is consistent with Luke’s theme of God’s grace being granted to the lowly and the outcast.
- Today is the final Sunday of the church liturgical year. Next week is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year, during which the Gospel of Matthew will be read.
Exploring the Word
It is fitting that this final text from the Gospel of Luke to be read in the liturgy brings together some dominant themes and proclaims the kingship of Jesus. Throughout this liturgical year, we have noted the radical reversal that is at the heart of the gospel. Christ is proclaimed a king, not in a scene of glorious enthronement, but as a broken man upon a cross. The kingship of Jesus is revealed, paradoxically, in the moment of his deepest humiliation. Throughout the gospel, Jesus seeks out and saves the lost, and here it is a common criminal, rightly condemned, who proclaims the kingdom that Jesus is to inhabit. True to form, the compassionate Jesus of Luke’s Gospel assures him of salvation, just as he had prayed for forgiveness for those who had brought him to this point (Luke 23:34).
- How have you experienced the forgiveness offered by Jesus?
- Reflect on the words of the Our Father: ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ What are the implications of this prayer for believers? How can we help build the kingdom of God on earth?
Opportunities for group discussion and personal prayer
- What do you think and feel when you contemplate the image of Christ crucified?
- Have you ever been punished when you have done nothing wrong? How did you feel?
- Royalty and royal families seem to have a fascination for people and certainly achieve plenty of coverage in the media. Share your feelings about royalty and royal personages. How does this compare with the image of Christ as King?
- Place a crucifix in a place of honour in your home. Spend some time each day in prayer before the crucified Christ.
- The plea of the penitent thief makes a fine prayer this week:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Sharing the tradition
A closer look at the Scripture of the day, to see how it makes more explicit God’s word to us through the teachings of Jesus Christ
The feast of Christ the King is a relatively new one in the church calendar. It was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI after the world had experienced the horrors of the First World War and been shocked at the brutality and destruction of the conflict between so-called civilised Christian nations. The royal house of Russia had been murdered, and kingdoms toppled in the aftermath of war. The role of the Church in social and cultural life was diminishing, and there was a greater separation of Church and state. This feast sought to confront growing secularism head on and confirm that the ultimate authority was not a nation or military might but the authority of Christ as universal King. Coming as it does on the final Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, this feast proclaims that Christ presides over the whole of history and that all time and all ages belong to him (CCC, §450).
- In an era when royalty is on the wane, discuss this understanding of Christ as King. How helpful is it to members of the group?
- You could use visual images of Christ as King—for example, Eastern icons—as a stimulus.
- You could contrast other images of Jesus—for example, the good shepherd—to further the discussion.
Symbols and images
The image of a king is of one who has ultimate authority and one to whom loyalty and obedience is owed. It is in this sense that we celebrate Christ as king. During his life, Jesus preached the kingdom of God, but he avoided attempts by some to make him a king in an earthly sense. He was not interested in power or glory or in military might. The ‘kingship’ of Jesus lies in the authority of his teachings and the recognition that he is God among us.
Living the Word
Practical ideas for group leaders to employ in connecting Scripture and daily life, with suggestions for music and environment
- What visual images of Jesus are present in your church or parish buildings? Perhaps you could spend some time in looking at the visual representations and discussing the image of Jesus they present.
- Use a crucifix as a focus for prayer. If participants do not have a cross of their own, you may consider a presentation of one to each catechumen. You could spend some reflective time listening to the Taizé chant, ‘Jesus, remember me’ (GA 308). Another appropriate song could be ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever’ (GA 527). Pray for the coming of the kingdom of God. Pray for each other, that like the penitent thief, each will have a place in the kingdom. Conclude with an adaptation of the prayer of blessing in the RCIA at §97I.