Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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The Feast of Christ the King (Year C)

Nov 20, 2022

First Reading

A reading from the Book of Samuel (5:1-3)

In those days, all the tribes of Isreal came to David in Hebron and said: "Here we are, your bone and your flesh. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back. And the Lord said to you, "You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.""

When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the Lord, and they anointed him king of Israel.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5)


(R) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the Lord." And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R)

Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. (R)

According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians (1:12-20)

Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (23:35-43)

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews."

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise".

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

Today's gospel ends with our Lord Jesus Christ saying to a criminal dying beside Him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise.", Luke (23:35-43). "Paradise!" What and where is Paradise? Modern dictionaries define "Paradise" as the ultimate abode of the righteous; an ideal and perfect place; a place without worry and pain; a place where there is no sin; a place of uninterrupted bliss and life with God forever; a place where God dwells and so on. In Judaism and Christianity, the Garden of Eden which implies "God's garden" wherein lived Adam and Eve is pictured as "Paradise".

In the New Testament of the Bible, apart from this reference in Luke, "Paradise" occurs twice, specifically, in the Book of Revelation and in the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, but it is used as a synonym for "heaven", Luke (23:43); Revelation (2:7); Corinthians (12:4). Early Christian scholars have also used the word for both Heaven and the place where righteous souls await resurrection.

Once, during his sermon, a priest described the beauty of paradise to his congregation. He said, "Up there in paradise, there is no darkness whatsoever. There is no sun, no moon, and no stars and, there is no day or night. The glory of God is the eternal light in Paradise. Besides, there is no pain or suffering or death. There is only everlasting happiness, joy and peace. Then the priest asked the congregation, "Do you all want to go there?" There was a thunderous response, "Oh, yes!" He asked them again, "Even now?"

Once again there was a thunderous shout, "Oh, yes!" The priest then said, "Those who want to go there, raise your hands." All the people in the church raised their hands. He then asked them to lower their hands and asked, "All those who want to die now and go to Paradise raise your hands." There was total silence. Not a single hand was raised. Rather, the members looked at one another and burst into laughter, as none of them wanted to die. Then the priest said, "To go to Paradise for everlasting happiness, joy and peace, one must die first. One cannot get there without dying."

Today's gospel text tells us that, to get to paradise besides dying a physical death, we also must truly repent of our sins, Luke (23:35-43). In the gospel, we see three categories of people:

  • The rulers and soldiers who sarcastically call upon Jesus to deliver Himself from the cross to prove His Messiahship and Kingship, Luke (23:35-37)
  • A criminal who challenges Jesus to use His divine power and to save Himself and at the same time, save him and his fellow criminal from the cross, Luke (23:39)
  • Another criminal who admits his and a companion's guilt but at the same time proclaims Jesus' innocence as well as acknowledges Jesus' majesty and seeks His mercy, Luke (23:40-41).

In the midst of cruel and sordid mockery and pleading, Luke, the writer of the gospel, tellingly inserts the inscription which had been written by Pilate and was put on the Cross of Jesus. The actual inscription in Latin is "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" meaning "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews", just as recorded by John (19:19). However, other Gospel writers give it in a slightly different form. Matthew writes, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews", whereas Mark mentions, "The King of the Jews", and Luke writes, "This is the King of the Jews", Matthew (27:37); Mark (15:26); Luke (23:38). While there is a difference in what is omitted, the essential part, "the King of the Jews", is identical in all four Gospels.

Anyway, by referring to the inscription at this point, Luke proclaims Jesus as King, but not a king in the world's definition or the way we normally understand it, which is, a king with money, power, fame, wealth and worldly ambition. Rather, in the whole narrative, Luke presents Jesus as King who reigns not from a throne, but from a cross, who exhibits radical forgiveness and awards Paradise to any genuinely repentant sinner and, who saves even the worst of sinners like the hardened criminal condemned to death, Luke (23:43).

Yes, indeed, Jesus, through His infinitely generous, merciful, and compassionate words and actions at the height of injustice, ridicule, public embarrassment, shame and physical agony, proves His Messiahship and Kingship far more dramatically than He did throughout His earthly ministry. There was no shortage of miraculous evidence of His Messiahship; yet, Jesus' opponents, such as the chief priests, scribes, elders, and Pharisees, had tested Him frequently by demanding a miraculous sign to prove His Messiahship, Matthew (12:38); Mark (8:11).

In spite of the written inscription "Jesus is the King of the Jews", the Bible tells us that the majority of the Jews reject Jesus and His Kingship and, because of their rejection, Christ keeps the door of mercy wide open, night and day, to all Gentiles, and to whoever seeks His Kingdom by repenting of sins, just as the repentant criminal does, Acts (28:28); Romans (11:11); Proverbs (28:13).

That is why, even when the repentant criminal makes a simple prayer but with a sincere act of faith, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom", Jesus looks at him with infinite mercy and replies, "Amen, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise", Luke (23:43). The word "Amen" means "so be it". And right there Jesus affirms that criminal's salvation. Besides, Jesus' response reveals His generosity and magnanimity towards the dying criminal. He grants the criminal more than he asks. While the criminal only asks Jesus to remember him, He accepts his repentance and promises Paradise with Him the very day.

What lessons do we learn from this passage?

  • We learn of a striking contrast in the attitudes of the rulers, soldiers, unrepentant criminal, and the repentant criminal towards Jesus. The rulers, soldiers and unrepentant criminal represent those of us who mock and laugh at Jesus as if He has to prove something to us; those of us who deride His sacrifice on the cross, and even more so, challenge Him to save us and others from all immediate problems or difficulties we are facing such as illnesses, financial problems, etc.; and those of us who continually pursue unholy lifestyles whilst also demonstrate a stubborn unwillingness to repent of our sins and to change our ways.

    However, the repentant criminal represents those of us who grasp the true nature of Jesus' Messiahship and look to Him for forgiveness. In other words, these are the people who believe that Jesus has come neither to cancel out legal consequences of anybody's sins in this life, if those sins pertain to breaking civil laws, nor abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free them from physical suffering but rather to set them free from the power of sin and death. To this end, they humbly acknowledge their own guilt, totally surrender themselves before Jesus and beg for His Mercy.

  • We learn that, just as He did to the two criminals hanging beside Him, Jesus as Universal King makes Himself equally accessible to all sinners and freely pardons the sins of those who repent and come to Him seeking a place in Paradise. He enables all repentant sinners to re-enter Paradise which was lost due to the fall of Adam and Eve.
  • We learn that it is up to us to accept the gifts of pardon and Paradise which Christ the King offers us. We can either be like the repentant criminal or the unrepentant criminal, Jewish rulers and Roman soldiers. To our choice then is either take advantage of the infinite mercy of Jesus, open our hearts in humble submission to His Lordship and repent of our sins and, consequently, gain the Lord's forgiveness and admittance into Paradise, or we can become hard-hearted by allowing evil and criminal tendencies to rule over us till the end. Indeed, it is a serious problem if we take God's grace in vain and continue in our sin, never repenting or even trying to turn our behaviour away from God's direction.

    Because Jesus Himself warns us that, remaining hard-hearted like the unrepentant criminal and refusing to listen to the inspirations or stirrings of the Holy Spirit for conversion till the end of one's life, is an unforgiveable sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Hence, if anyone constantly silences the Holy Spirit, who quite often, through our conscience or inner voice, and sometimes through Scriptures or Church teachings or homilies or spiritual directors, knocks at the door of our hearts and prompts us to repent and reform our lives; or if anyone justifies the wrongdoing saying that there is nothing wrong in us till the end of life, such a person will never be "forgiven either in this age, or in the age to come", Matthew (12:31-32).

  • We learn from today's Gospel narrative that our entry into Jesus' promised Paradise depends solely upon our true repentance. However, many Biblical references also suggest that it depends on how we live our lives here on earth: obviously, we don't have to wait until we die to experience Paradise or Heaven. We can get a taste of Paradise now on earth even in the midst of whatever circumstances life on earth throws at us but only if we live our lives according to Jesus' teachings. Jesus Himself has promised that His Kingdom is not far away or in the distant future; but it's here now and it's here on earth, Matthew (3:2); Mark (1:15). So, let us begin living the life of Heaven, here and now, "by being kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgives us", Ephesians (4:32).

Let us show others the love God has for us, so that they too gain a little taste of Paradise or Heaven - a tangible experience of what it would be like after our death. Let us choose and believe in the way of Jesus and start doing things differently from today to make our home, workplace and neighbourhood a place that is a little bit more like Paradise or Heaven on Earth, a place of true love, peace, happiness and joy.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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