When you hear the word “king” what comes to mind? Fancy palaces equipped with very expensive contents? In his gospel, Luke (23:35-43) presents us a Jesus who is a different type of “king” The context is one of Jesus’ suffering and death–and yet he is referred to as “king.” The difference is that there are two distinct understandings of “king.” The first is that in one case “kingship” is described in physical terms (such as in the illustration above.) The second is that of “kingship” in the spiritual sense. No concrete palace and no armies ready to challenge the political power. This is the kind of “king” that Jesus was. His “kingship” was that of establishing and developing a moral value system.
During his trial, Jesus was asked by Pilate, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate’s understanding of kingship was of the physical kind, for one of the fears of Jewish leaders was that someone was challenging the authority of the emperor. Pilate believed that Jesus was that type of king.
Why was Luke referring to Jesus as “king” in the context of his passion and death? Well, it seems to me that two observations are necessary here. First, when Pilate and his soldiers referred to Jesus as “king,” it was understood in the physical sense, but Jesus had neither a fancy palace nor unlimited armies to challenge the authority of the emperor. Consequently, any regal reference to Jesus was obviously within the context of mockery. Second, Luke was attempting to demonstrate that spiritual kingship was more valuable than physical kingship, which Jesus’ resurrection subsequently demonstrated in later theological development. So, we have in this biblical reading a contrast between the physical and the spiritual sides of kingship.
How does Luke do this? The contrast seems to be manifested between Pilate/soldiers and one of the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus if he is king, and he places an inscription on the cross, “This is the king of the Jews” (=physical understanding of king; mockery). Some of the soldiers mockingly say to Jesus, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (=physical understanding of king; mockery).
However, one of the criminals being crucified with Jesus seems to have undergone a type of conversion. This conversion seems to have manifested itself in an act of belief. For he says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (=spiritual understanding of king; affirmation). The belief in Jesus as spiritual king seems to have come from some kind of conversion. Who knows how or why?
What can we learn from the above Gospel reading? No doubt, many things. But I would like to suggest two lessons. I would call them: “The Jesus pattern,” and “Periodic conversion.”
First of all, the “Jesus pattern” will remind us that every thing that Jesus did and said was spoken/done in the form of a pattern, namely, LIFE-SUFFERING-DEATH-RESURRECTION. Every gesture that we say or do should follow this pattern. Our life should be one of saying and doing good things to others. Meanwhile, problems will surface in life that will bring us suffering, and eventual death. But our faith tells us and gives us hope that after pain and suffering there is always resurrection.
Secondly, the “Periodic conversion” can come about in several ways. Our failure in responsibility toward others should be dealt with immediately. Possibly by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, outward signs of forgiveness, or other similar gestures.
One memorable scene in the Gospel is Jesus’ response to the criminal who asked to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom. The same can be said to us should we have adopted the “Jesus pattern” and the “periodic conversion.” And that is, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” May our prayer be that every day of our lives can be that “today.”