With the latest revelations and speculation about Prince Andrew, Royalty once more in the UK is the stuff of headlines in newspapers, radio and TV talk shows. How members of the Royal family behave, what they wear, how their children dress and how and with whom they socialise fills social media all over the world, and fuels endless rounds of speculation and gossip. However, that’s more or less the extent of a royal family’s power now: kings and queens in a democracy no longer wield political or military power as they once did.
Although today in the Church we celebrate Christ as King, Jesus never gave himself such a title. He may have spoken of establishing the ‘kingdom’ and ‘reign’ of God on earth but he rejected the title ‘King’ and spurned attempts to ‘crown’ him.
Nevertheless, this did not stop his opponents from charging him with claiming to be a king. Indeed, the official description of the crime for which he was condemned, and which hung over his cross, came from Pilate, the Roman Governor: ‘‘Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” meaning ‘This is the king of the Jews’. (This is abbreviated to INRI on crucifixes.)
As we have just heard from St Luke, this inscription over the cross led the Roman soldiers and one of the criminals being crucified with Jesus to taunt him for his powerlessness.
But the other criminal crucified with Jesus defended him and addressed him with a simple plea: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In saying this, the Good Thief, as he is known, was acknowledging that the ‘kingship’ of Jesus was not earthly but one that extended to the other side of death.
This is what we acknowledge and celebrate in our feast of Christ the King. And the reply of Jesus to the Good Thief, so simple and direct, contains what we Christians hope and pray for on this feast: ‘ Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise’.
In response to the Word of God, here are some points for reflection and prayer from Fr Kieran O’Mahony:
Today’s feast puts before us Jesus who never used power to his own advantage. Whom have you known who used power for the benefit of others rather than for their own self-interest? When have you used power in this way?
The power of God is shown in an unexpected way in the Crucifixion, not in a wonderful display of spectacular dominance, but in Jesus sharing our human weakness. When has the honesty of another person sharing his/her human vulnerability with you had a powerful effect? When has your honesty in that way had a positive effect on another?
In his dying on the cross Jesus is an example of someone in apparent helplessness. It was his trust in the love of God for him that helped him through. It was only later with the hindsight of the resurrection that the moment of helplessness could be seen as one in which the power of God was present. Have you had experiences on which you can look back now and see that the power of God was at work in your moments of helplessness?
St Luke’s description of Jesus dying also puts before us the liberating power of forgiveness. The forgiveness of Jesus brought new life to the criminal (Good Thief) hanging on the cross with him. When have you found that forgiveness given, or received, was a source of new life for yourself or for others?
Holy Name, Jesmond
24 November 2019