But in Jesus’ time it was real, significant and powerful. Pontius Pilate, in fact, had decided to let Jesus go during the passion-trial. But when they told him, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar,” he got scared and, acting out of fear, handed Jesus over to them. This, in spite of the fact that Jesus had openly declared that his kingdom is not of this world. Neither Pilate nor Caesar had anything to fear. Their kingdom would not be usurped. Jesus’ kingdom is something different, something that, Pilate and anyone who is solely concerned with worldly power cannot comprehend.
On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to celebrate Christ as King of the universe, offering us a gospel reading which is part of the passion narrative from the gospel of Luke. We’ve been journeying with Luke throughout most of this year - a journey which saw Jesus going from Galilee to Jerusalem. Here he is to meet his passion, death and resurrection. It’s only logical, then, that we are invited to reflect on Jesus’ kingdom through his passion story, now that he has arrived at his destination.
We can take three protagonists from today’s passage. First, there are the religious leaders. They do accept and proclaim his spiritual powers. He did save others, they admit, let him now save himself if he is who he says he is. They miss a very important point. Jesus is not about saving himself. His life is always about “others”: serving, loving, helping others.
The soldiers do not care whether he is king or not. They just use the accusation (that’s what the inscription on the cross written by Pilate said) to mock him and make fun of him. The king does not react. He remains silent.
Then there are the two criminals hanged on the cross next to Jesus. One of them is focused on his hurts, his pain. Self-pity. He speaks out of anger. This is his last chance to vent it out. Let us not be scandalized of him. How often do we, too, vent our anger at God when we are hurt or angry?! The other one, somehow, speaks more sense. He admits his wrongdoings and the consequences of his actions. Still, he recognizes someone special in the person of Jesus. Someone who can give him hope. He understands that, what is happening on that hill outside the city is not the last word of the story. He enters into a relationship with Jesus. And the crucified Lord does not reject him. Today … with me … you will be in paradise.
Indeed, being part of the kingdom of Jesus, enjoying paradise, is not something of the future. Jesus gives it in the here and now. The only condition is to be “with him”.
How close am I to Jesus in my life? How much do I allow his words and his teachings to guide and enlighten all that I do in my life? This King is not a fairy tale. He is one who, true to his words, made of his kingdom a life of serving and giving to others. It’s worth giving him a chance.