This year, as we end Year C (and with it our continuous reading of Luke’s gospel on Sundays), we celebrate Christ the King by taking our stance at the foot of the cross. We stand below three suffering men, one of whom is wearing a crown made of thorns. A sign has been tacked up above his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
This is our King – hanging on a cross, “sneered at” not only by “the rulers” and the Roman military, but even by the thief hanging on his other side: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”
It feels a long way from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we witnessed with all the others only five days earlier. That had been a great moment, a reminder of the words of the Prophet Zechariah:
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9: 9)
Now, he is just a poor naked man gasping out his last tortured breaths in the company of two ne’er-do-wells.
Today’s gospel can seem an odd choice for today’s feast. And yet, as we stand there, witnessing his last moments, we are also privileged to hear the dialogue between Jesus and the Repentant Thief. Once again, as he has so often in his gospel, in stories like The Prodigal Son or The Pharisee and the Publican, Luke allows us to witness an encounter with the Truth. In this case, the Repentant Thief first meets and welcomes the truth about himself as he rebukes the other man:
“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.”
But it’s not just about himself, true as his words are. For in the next breath, he shows that he has encountered the Truth itself, asking:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When Jesus replies:
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise,”
it’s clear that the encounter has freed and saved the Thief.
Two weeks ago we learned of the death of Leonard Cohen, a Canadian singer and song-writer whose career spanned the decades from the 1960s until the present. His song “Anthem” reminds me of the this moment between Jesus and the Good Thief – of moments in my own life when I’ve had to come to terms with the truth about myself (usually painful) and the truth about the Truth (always life-giving). Here it is, a little gift for the conclusion of this Church Year and a point to meditate on as we begin the next:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
If you’d like to hear the whole song, here’s Leonard Cohen singing it in Bucharest in 2012 at the age of 76:
Thank you, Leonard.
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA, Provincial of the U.S. Province