Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
2SM 5:1-3 PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5 Col 1: 12-20 LK 23: 35-43 “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.”
In addition to the end of the Liturgical year, the Holy Year of Mercy comes to a close today. It was an extraordinary year which afforded us the opportunity to become more acutely aware of the never-ending mercy of a loving God. We were charged “To be merciful as the Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Opportunities were offered throughout the year to obtain the grace and favor of the Lord by availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We were also called to bear witness to God’s mercy by performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We, in essence, are the face of God’s mercy. Pope Francis stated, at the beginning of this holy year, that “no one is excluded from the mercy of God.” If we had doubts about that, we need only turn to today’s gospel for affirmation; How fitting a story it is.
Jesus, after having been subjected to horrendous humiliation, torture and ridicule is, finally, nailed to the cross like a common criminal. Ironically, He is placed between two common criminals; two thieves. We are told in the scripture that the rulers and soldiers were sneering at Jesus and taunting Him to save himself if He was, in fact, …”the chosen one, the Christ of God.” We have the advantage of knowing how this story turned out. We also know that it was entirely possible for Jesus to save Himself. Those present at this debacle, even His closest followers, were not really sure. There was doubt and confusion. One can only wonder whether the two thieves had any awareness of Jesus before this event. His reputation had, surely, been wide-spread but they may have been more interested in their reckless ways than in following Him. The one thief obviously didn’t care. He was hardened and unrepentant. He joined the crowd with their taunts of hatred and ridicule. What made the other thief recognize Jesus for who He was? Could it have been him overhearing Jesus say, just moments before, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I am sure that forgiveness, especially of their executioners, was the furthest thing from the minds of those two thieves. Yet, somehow, this thief, often referred to as the good thief, recognizes God as God. He is filled with grace and compassion and rebukes his partner in crime indicating that they, in fact, were receiving just punishment for their crimes but Jesus, was innocent and not deserving of this torture and death. Was he able to see beyond the dirt, the grit, the blood and distortion? Did he recognize the Divine Face of Mercy? Did he suddenly realize that his salvation was hanging beside him? Is that what prompted his repentance? The thief expresses his repentance, simply, with the words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Was he expecting that in the blink of an eye, he would be forgiven and, even more, he would, that very day, be in company with Jesus and his Father in Paradise? I doubt it. Remember, he did not have the luxury of knowing how the story ends but, he was willing to take a chance.
We, however, live with the knowledge of the Resurrection. We know that Jesus rose victorious and conquered sin and death. We know that Paradise awaits us if we, too, repent and ask forgiveness. Sometimes people question what are called “death-bed” confessions. Are they genuine? Are those people really saved? It is not for us to know. But, one thing that today’s gospel tells us is that it is never too late to receive the Mercy of God if we but ask. The Holy Year of Mercy may be closing today but the Mercy of God endures forever.
"Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us….” (excerpted from the optional final prayer for the Divine Mercy chaplet)
Pat O’Malley, Associate