Today we come to the end of the year – the final day in what is called the liturgical year – as we celebrate the great feast of Christ the King. But the Gospel today helps us to keep our eyes focused very sharply on what Jesus as King is really going to mean and look like.
The scene that is presented to us is that simultaneously dark, dreadful and yet glorious day of the crucifixion of Jesus presented in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. The cross was a terrible symbol of human cruelty and destruction that was the pride of the Roman Empire. The irony that it is on the cross that Jesus truly became their King is not lost on the early church. They knew all the prophecies and the rich scriptural heritage that had remembered that King David – that man after God’s own heart, and the truest and greatest of the kings of Israel had been a mere shepherd boy.
So it is on the Cross that Jesus bears the sins of all the sheep in his care. He also bears the many taunts and jeers of the criminals and soldiers who mercilessly mock and abuse him.
It is at this point that St Luke offers a unique remembrance. One of the criminals chooses not to join the rest of the crowd, but comes to the defense of Jesus, reminding the others that he deserved the punishment that he received, but Jesus has done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve this treatment. He then cries out in words that have been often repeated and often sung, as he addresses this great shepherd King with shocking familiarity: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The words remain an invitation to all of us to do the same. To approach the great and holy King Jesus with equally shocking familiarity and cry out to him with our deepest and most personal needs. For that is all it takes to receive the same reassurance as the good criminal received: “Indeed, I promise you – today you will be with me in paradise.”
Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (9’04”) – on first Holy Communion weekend with 245 candidates at six Masses
Sunday 34, Year C. Luke 23:35-43
One of the styles of biblical literature that causes great misunderstanding is apocalyptic. This is not helped by the many, perhaps more fundamentalist interpreters who attempt to find literal meaning in the events of the present world, when the only direct literal meaning concerns events at the time the texts were written. In this case, the Gospel of Luke concerns the events leading up to the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem in the year 70AD. Nevertheless, the apocalyptic genre of writing offers great hope for the Christian church across the centuries as we do all that we need to do to allow the breaking in of this new messianic age which first happened with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’57”)
Sunday 33, Year C. Luke 21:5-19
The long journey that we have been on with Jesus which began in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke – the journey from Galilee in the north down to Jerusalem has finished and Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem – which the church celebrates each year on Palm Sunday. So all the gospel passages over the next few weeks take place during Holy Week – those final days leading up to the events of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Tensions, therefore, begin to rise!
The Gospel today is from Luke chapter 20. This is the only time that we meet this strange group called the Sadducees in this Gospel. The Sadducees were the conservatives and the aristocratic group of the day who scorned the more progressive views of the more popular Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Torah.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 25, we find the law of levirate marriage, whereby a brother was supposed to raise up an heir for his childless dead brother. This was meant to protect the property rights of a family.
Here, the Sadducees pose a case of a succession of seven heirless brothers that they think will force Jesus to renounce the resurrection by showing the absurdity of it. Instead, Jesus replies that the succession of husbands is a problem for the Sadducees, only because they have not thoroughly comprehended the meaning of the resurrection.
Resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Death will have been abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, will be irrelevant. Those whom God counts worthy of ‘the age to come’, as opposed to ‘the present age’, will have bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more.
And this continues to be good news for all who work for justice in this present world.
Recorded at St Paul’s (8am & 5.30pm; 8’47”)
Sunday 32, Year C. Luke 20:27-38.
To fully appreciate the story of Zacchaeus you do need to understand how despised he would have been within the society of Jericho – itself already on the outside of acceptable Jewish society, given its reputation as a city of sin and its history of standing opposed to the kingdom of God. There were three strikes against him, the main one being his profession. He was not only a tax-collector, but a chief one – meaning that he was not only a collaborator with the oppressive Roman Empire, but he not only made his usual cut from the collection of taxes from the people, but he also made a cut on all the other tax collectors who worked under him. Second, he was wealthy. He is usually pictured as being middle-aged, somewhat portly, but well-dressed and presented. The final blow is that he is height-challenged – something which I find difficult to relate to!
But despite all these obstacles, he has one thing going for him. His curiosity leads him to climb one of the sycamore trees that even today line the streets of ancient Jericho. And this leads him to a direct encounter with Jesus who was passing through this city of sin.
Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden 6pm (11’56”)
Sunday 31, Year C. Luke 19:1-10