Does anyone else wonder why we’re talking about Christ being crucified today? Shouldn’t that be our Good Friday gospel? Well, today is Christ the King Sunday. This festival was added to the church calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was a terrible time and the Pope saw Mussolini in power and Hitler’s Nazi Party gaining strength. The Western world was in the grips of the great Depression. Pope Pius felt that in these desperate times, if people recognized Christ as King they could be free from the evils of leaders like Mussolini and Hitler, in fact, everyone could be free of all tyranny.
I think that for Americans, this image of Christ as King doesn’t work too well. We don’t really relate to the idea of royalty ... or do we? Our whole country was all aflutter last week over the news that Prince William and lovely Kate Middleton were finally engaged. I hope they have a hugely elaborate royal wedding that we can all watch! Perhaps at some level we Americans yearn for a bit of royalty.
Many of the people who followed Jesus also yearned for a king. Time and time again they encouraged Jesus to be their king. After all, they needed a strong leader who would free them from the occupation of the Roman army.
His answers were a bit sly: “I’ll be a king but not the kind of king you think.” For example, although he was treated like a king when he entered Jerusalem just a few days before, he chose to ride a donkey, a humble, maybe even ironic ac to show that his kingly power was not earthly but divine.
When we meet Jesus on this last, bleak day of his life he is in the darkly named “place of the skull”, Golgotha. Dust swirls around the crowds of onlookers, soldiers, animals, children, all craning their necks to see the three men nailed to three crosses. This is a popular spectacle of the time, seeing people punished for their crimes. There is a great deal of noise, much of it mocking insults directed at Jesus. In the still center of this madness, like a gracious king, he quietly pardons all of them: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
The people stand by, looking on, staring at Jesus. The ringleaders taunt, "He saved others. Let's see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen one—ha!"
The soldiers also come up and laugh at him, making a game of it. They toast him with sour wine: "So you're King of the Jews! Save yourself!" Printed over him on the cross is an sarcastic sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals hanging alongside mumbles his curse: "Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!"
But the other criminal makes him shut up: "Have you no fear of God? We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this." Then, turning to Jesus, he implores, "Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom." Calmly, Jesus replies, "Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise."
Did you hear that? TODAY you will join me in paradise. Jesus isn’t going to rise from the dead for several days, and then more time will pass before he ascends into heaven. But he promises this faithful, hopeful criminal that TODAY they will be in paradise together. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has been preaching about God’s kingdom being right in front of us. We don’t have to die and go up to some cloudy place with angels and harp music to enjoy the kingdom of God. I think Jesus wanted us to envision what life here on earth would be like if we chose him as our king.
Listen: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We pray all the time to find God’s kingdom here on earth. We pray for an overwhelming change in the nature of the world. Our earthly kingdoms are about money and power. The kingdom ofChrist is about love and humility.
Is Christ our king? If we list the most important people in our lives, where would Jesus rank? If we make him our king, make him first in our lives then we choose to be ruled by his teachings and choose to go out into the world preaching HIS love. By these simple actions we can enter the kingdom of God today.
Reading today’s gospel, one sentence really stuck out for me: “The people stood by.” They stood by as others were taunting, deriding and cursing Jesus. They stood by as he was nailed to the cross. They stood by as he died a horrible death. Where were the adoring crowds who had greeted their king only days before as he entered Jerusalem? Were all these people against Jesus or were they just afraid to stand up for him? The only one who defended Jesus was the criminal dying next to him. Edmund Burke writes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” Evil triumphed that on that dark day because people quietly stood by.
When I was in high school I had a teacher who was very prejudiced. He regularly used racist words to describe people, for instance, he referred to Mexicans as ‘wetbacks’. One day in class after he repeatedly described Vietnamese people as ‘gooks’, I stood up and began to gather my books. He asked, “Where do you think you are going?” and I replied, “I’m leaving because I object to what you are saying.” I left the classroom, left school and walked straight home with my heart pounding. The next day, of course, I was called into the principal’s office and I explained what had happened. I didn’t get into trouble. The next year that teacher was gone from HoltvilleHigh School. You see, I knew in my seventeen year old heart that what he was doing was evil. He was judging entire races of people with prejudice. What bothered me most was that he was teaching his hateful ways to my classmates. This incident occurred 37 years a go and I’m still proud of myself for standing up.
I know that our Laura Lacroix, who hears all kinds of things in the beauty shop where she works, stands up for people. When she hears homophobic or racist remarks she stands up. Although she’s not very tall, she’s huge in my mind because she is brave.
There is a great deal of hatred around us in the world. And like that teacher of mine, there are many people encouraging hatred and prejudice. They all around us, on TV, in emails, in our families, at work, in the paper. Ask yourself: Does this lead to peace, to justice? Does this recognize the basic humanity of all people? Would Christ find this full of love or hate? Christ our King preached love and forgiveness. Let’s stand up for him in our world today.