On the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church honors Christ the King. This year’s celebration also marks the solemn conclusion of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. During the past week I was at a gathering of priests where many noted the Holy Year would end today. One of my dear brothers, remarked, “Well, I guess that we can now all return to being nasty and merciless.” Well, perhaps he will but not the priests of our parish!
The idea of a king is of course rather foreign for Americans. Yet, I think it is safe to say that most of us are fascinated with royalty. We enjoy seeing the trappings of royalty. We are riveted to our TVs on the occasion of a royal wedding. Our media follows things happening in the royal family. We are gripped by the pomp and circumstance.
Yet, this is not the Gospel vision of the Kingship of Christ. It is something entirely different. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” In fact, today’s Gospel passage does not take us to a palace of Jerusalem or to any majestic setting. We find ourselves on Calvary. This is because the Kingship of Christ can never be separated from the Cross.
In one of the great hymns we sing on Passion Sunday or Good Friday, “Vexilla Regis,” there are the words, “Regnavit a lingo Deus”…God reigns from a tree.” Jesus reigns from the wood of the cross. This is the throne of Christ. It was through the cross that Jesus draws us to himself. It was through the cross that Jesus reconciled all humanity with God. It was through the cross that our redemption was achieved and “heaven was wedded to earth.”
On Calvary, at the throne of Christ, we find various characters each with their reaction to the King. The Gospel tells us that the rulers “sneered,” the soldiers “jeered,” and that one of the criminals crucified along with Jesus “reviled” the Lord. Their reaction is one of rejection of Christ. This is also possible for any of us because of our sin.
This rejection is also apparent in our culture or society where there is a deliberate removal of faith from the public square and where people of faith are viewed as “out of touch,” “naïve” and are even belittled.
But there is another response on Calvary. We find it in an unlikely character---the other criminal. He is often referred to as “the good thief” and tradition has given him the name, “Dismas.” His reaction to Christ is one of recognition and repentance. This is the response of every disciple. We must recognize the sovereignty of Christ in our lives and then repent of our sin and make the changes, those “course corrections” that are necessary for our growth in holiness of life.
But we must also look to the central figure of Calvary, the Lord Jesus. From his throne of the cross he reveals himself to be a King of Infinite Mercy. Jesus offers St. Dismas, a man justly condemned, pardon and the promise of eternal life. This is the promise given to one who repented at the very last moment of his life. Only one person, in the whole of human history, can make that promise. No one and no action is beyond the mercy of God. Jesus seeks all those who are far from him. Pope Francis has said that Jesus seeks until the end.
Yet, throughout the Gospel we learn that God’s mercy to us hinges, if you will, on the mercy we offer to others: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;” “Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs.” We must also consider that formidable admonition of the Lord: “The measure, with which you measure, will be measured back to you.” What is the measure we use with others? Is it the measure of harshness, rigidity, or severity? If so, we must beware! Should it not be the measure of mercy, kindness, understanding and patience? What is the measure we use? Christ the King, the Innocent One, was merciful from the cross! What is the measure we use? As Deacon Kevin would say, “Something to think about this week!”