‘Today you will be with me
It is indeed truly singular that glorious throne upon which Jesus is proclaimed and recognized as King of the universe: the Cross!
The evangelists point out precisely that Jesus was crucified with two others condemned to death for their misdeeds, but His Cross was raised up at the very centre, it became the throne of the real King. This is a detail worthy of note, not only in the judicial perspective, but even more for its symbolic and theological relevance.
Jesus is at the centre: He is the principal person condemned, but above all, it is in Him that the fate of history is decided; it is in Him that the meaning of all things and of life itself is judged; it is in reference to Him that every man and woman is called to choose his or her eternal destiny.
The scene of the crucifixion is the synthetic representation of history and humanity. We are enlightened by the contemplation offered by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Colossians: “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His Cross” (Col 1:19-20).
It is in His Blood shed upon the Cross that Jesus brought to completion the great project of creation, freeing everything from the poisonous consequences of sin and the power of Satan.
Jesus is always enthroned at the centre of our story, at the centre of our history, just as He was on Calvary: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16).
Without looking at and without knowing Jesus, nothing is really understandable about the profound meaning of the crime, of history and of the mystery that surrounds humanity. Only Jesus, and Jesus in His definitive manifestation in the Paschal Mystery of His Passion, death and Resurrection, unfolds the mystery that envelops everything.
The events of humanity remind us of this every day and in fact cry out to us through the news that reaches us from all the means of social communication. But we, so hyper-connected and children of the digital age have become terribly deaf to the fundamental appeal, hidden in the plots of history and the contradictions of the human heart. We assume that we can control everything, without wanting to admit our precariousness and powerlessness, how salutary it would be to recognize with wise humility that at the origin of life there is no man or woman, that nothing would subsist if it were not maintained in existence by God, the source and end of all things. Moreover, in the disorientation that imprisons our lives and in the face of the failures and anguish of which we are often victims, the only real response would be to cry out our need for a powerful, free and loving Saviour.
Yet, disguising Him with a noble garment, we pursue a deceptive and ferocious project: after having “killed” the presence of God, we want to place humanity at the centre, attributing divine characteristics to him or her. But man or woman is not and cannot be God, nor take His place; he or she is a creature, not the Creator: he or she is marked by precariousness and fallibility. Humanity needs to be saved, humanity cannot save itself.
Contemplating Jesus raised up high in the centre, King of the Universe, high on the glorious throne of His Cross is the only true and lasting way to rediscover hope, returning everything to how it should be, as it was intended when God the Father created humanity in His own image.
On either side of Jesus there were two men, both subjected to a final sentence of death, of them we do not know whether they were rich or poor, nice or unpleasant, healthy or sick, lazy or enterprising: in the supreme instant of existence these distinctions count for nothing.
United by the failure caused by their wrong choices, they are placed in front of the last and decisive choice of their lives: and at final time in whom do they want to place their trust and to whom do they entrust their destiny? The only thing that remains for them now, at this final hour is that they are losing everything.
The first decides to remain a prisoner of his presumption, of his narrowness in clinging to himself and his pride: he makes fun of Jesus and does not let himself be moved by the power of love that becomes a gift right there, next to him and for him.
The second, on the other hand, recognises the greatness of the one crucified by him, crowned with thorns; he recognises the royal nobility and the transforming power of love that keeps Jesus nailed to the Cross and, moved by humility and faith, with the little breath that remains in him, whispers a final prayer: “Remember me, when you come into Your Kingdom”. His prayer is immediately answered. Jesus answered him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
From the height of His singular throne, Jesus exercises the highest of royal functions: guaranteeing life, paying that all may enter into the Kingdom with His majestic sacrifice of love.
In Him, the Father fulfilled His great desire for us: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13).
Today we are asked to exercise our freedom: to choose whether to enter or remain excluded from the Kingdom of God; to accept the majesty of His Love or to remain slaves to ourselves; to allow Jesus to be at the centre of our being, to allow Him to be the only Saviour of our life, to allow Him to be the reliable meaning of every gesture and every relationship. It is in this feast today that we are celebrating Jesus Christ as King of all creation. We are part of this creation; we are linked to each other and with the universe as a whole, of which Jesus is King. Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si’ 89-92: “As part of the universe, called into being by the Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family [...] We have only one heart”. May His Kingdom come!
By Fr John Luke Gregory, ofm
Custody of the Holy Land