Sadly, there have always been those who scoff at others or make fun of them, generally because they themselves feel threatened in some way. Those who suffer such bullying behaviour often feel powerless and demeaned. There may be some comfort for such people in today’s gospel. We find here a serious case of bullying and two dignified responses that undermine the destructive power of those who taunt or deride.
The first response is that of Jesus who refuses to retaliate when the soldiers mock him or when another convicted criminal (“one of the criminals hanging there”) derides him. Another dignified response comes from “the other” criminal. This man has the insight to recognise that Jesus is innocent. He also has the courage to challenge the injustice of what is going on around him. Having offered his challenge, he then turns to Jesus and addresses him by name: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kin-dom.” His request reveals his faith in Jesus as the human face of God. It also reveals his knowledge of Jesus’ mission, first announced in Galilee: “I must proclaim the good news of the kin-dom of God ….”
Jesus points to God and God’s reign or empire. Jesus’ criminal companion points to the reign or empire of Jesus. The reign of God and the reign of Jesus are one and the same. In turning to Jesus and putting his request, this criminal becomes a disciple and receives the assurance of a share in Jesus’ life with God: “Today you will be with me…” “Jesus, remember me” is a fitting prayer in the face of all life’s struggles. It is a prayer for mercy. Next time we sing these words or pray them in our hearts, we might spare a thought for the one who first uttered them, a convicted Jewish criminal who had the courage to rise above his own suffering and to challenge the unjust oppression of an innocent neighbour. Like Jesus, this criminal was and continues to be an instrument of God’s reign. His capacity to challenge the injustice of Jesus’ execution might be a source of inspiration for us as we struggle to find mercy and justice for the Earth as well as for the innocent ones who seek asylum in our midst only to find themselves subjected to the torture of exile and hopelessness.
The title of today’s feast reminds us of the boundless nature of God’s rule or reign: we celebrate Christ Jesus as ruler of the universe, of all that is and of all that will be. As our understanding of the universe expands, we find ourselves caught up in the ever creative and saving presence of a compassionate, merciful God. This feast might serve as a reminder to us to allow the peace of Christ to reign in our hearts even in the face of derision.
Luke 23:35-43 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, God’s chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”