32Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
A few months ago there was a group of you in my living room when the topic of Jr High School came up. Someone asked how I felt about My daughter Harper starting middle school and I said it terrified me. I would never willingly send my child to enter like, Kabul .. why would I want to send them to enter Middle School which is basically the emotional equivalent of a war zone? The 5 of us sat there and recalled our own painful experiences form that age in our lives. That night as we sat together … grown adults in our 20s 30s and 40s we could barely speak the derisive nicknames and insults which were tailor made for us by our peers like verbal garments for us to wear. Or just as painfully perhaps the ones we made for others to wear. The socially Darwinistic environment of Jr High seems to create this ability to emotionally eviscerate each other through insult. And the wounds don’t go away. Not entirely at least.
So in this age we find ourselves in which bullying is finally finally finally being addressed it’s interesting that the gospel text for today is one in which Jesus himself is being derided, mocked and taunted. And strangely, this is the text for this festival of the church called Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate Christ as King by reading the text in which he is insulted, mocked and killed.
All the taunting of his final day came form the fact that he would not defend himself. No genuine Messiah would go and get himself killed in a totally preventable way. Yet Jesus would not take and eye for and eye he would not call 10,000 angels as the old gospel hymn says. He would not do any of the things that a self-respecting messiah would do. I mean, during his ministry people had seen what he could pull off. Healing others, feeding others, providing huge vats of wine out of water for others– with those kinds of powers and a little more self-esteem? .. man… Jesus could have had it all. “save yourself” they chanted….And if the taunts of the crowd have a familiar ring there’s a reason – remember when Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness – another voice saying to him “If you really are the son of man turn these stone to bread… if you really are the son of God then throw your self down from the top of the temple and have angels catch you. At the very beginning of Jesus ministry Satan tried this same thing and it didn’t work so, as Luke 4:13 says when the devil had finished every test he departed from Jesus until an opportune time. Like the day of his death.
The leaders, the first thief, the crowds, the soldiers…they all mocked Jesus as though to say obviously you’re not the son of God because the God we know is powerful and vengeful and slightly insecure and would never allow himself to take this level of insult. The crowds made some fairly reasonable suggestions for what a genuine Messiah might do in a situation like his own crucifixion. Satan made a few Messiah makeover suggestions himself – feed yourself – do some tricks show off your mad skills. Everyone thinks God should do what we would do if we were God. And then we judge God according to how we think God is doing with that. And hey, I’d love to clean Jesus up a bit so he’d at least be presentable in public but as one of my favorite theologicans, Gerhart Forde says “God is simply not a being who can be manipulated by our opinions”
We’d love God to be the King of our particular value system. But here’s the thing – most of God is unknowable. Period. And really we should probably be grateful for that.
Yet when it comes down to it the most reliable way to legitimately know anything at all about the nature of God is to look to how God chose to reveal God’s self in Christ. And most notably we see who God is in how God chose to reveal God’s self on the cross. And just to be clear: The cross is not about God as divine child abuser sadly sending his little boy off to be killed because we were bad and well, somebody had to pay. Because the irony about viewing the cross this way is that the whole thing was about God saying pay attention – don’t avert your eyes from the cross. This this is the logical end of your value system. Here is where it will always end. In the suffering of God. Here is the extent I will go says God to defy your idea of me as a vengeful God. If you think I am about smiting your enemies then think again for I will not lift even a finger to condemn those who hung me. I will simply not be known as the God of vengeance. I will simply not allow you to project your puffed up human traits on me as though I’m a bigger better version of the best parts of you or a bigger badder version of the worst parts of you
On the cross we don’t see a legal transaction where Jesus pays our debt. We see God. The Word made flesh hangs from the cross. And let there be no mistake – this is Christ the King. And while his scornful and shameful death is insulting to our idea of a king and a God the divine royalty of Christ is simply unassailable. by us or anyone else. because sometimes things are so holy that they cannot be desecrated try as we might.
In the previous chapter of Luke as Jesus sits at table sharing his last supper with his friends they break out in an argument over who will be the greatest. Jesus says “the greatest of you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves…I confer on you says Jesus to his faltering friends “I confer on you a kingdom so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and you will sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
Even Jesus speaks of his kingdom and of thrones and judgment. Yet today on Christ the king Sunday we see that Christ’s kingdom is comprised of thieves and Christ-deniers. Today on Christ the King Sunday we see our king enthroned yet the throne is not one of gold and jewel but of blood and puke stained wood and the crown is not one of gold and jewel but of twisted thorn. And as his crown is piercing his brow it is from here the King of Glory judges the world who put him on a cross. From his rough hewn throne of a cross Jesus looks at the world…those who betrayed him, those who executed him those who loved him and those who ignored him and he judges it all. The pronouncement is made and the judgment is ….forgiveness. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing is, as my friend Justin reminded me this week, an eternally valid statement. From his cross Christ the King loves the betrayer, the violent, the God killer in all of us. Because his divine self was unmockable. Protected and apart and unmanipulatable by our opinions and value systems. And it finally is only a God who enters our human existence and suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness who can save us from ourselves. It is only a self-emptying God who walked among as Christ Jesus, who, in the words of St Paul, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, humbled himself to the point of death— even death on a cross.
There in that self-empying we see the image of God. There on the cross we receive the blessedness of God’s own self poured out for us. And the imago dei, the image of this very God is within you and is also that which cannot be profaned. Cannot be insulted. Cannot be mocked. Cannot be injured. For you are children of a crucified king.