Lectionary 162, Gospel Luke 23: 35-43
On this feast of Christ the King we begin our reflection at mass with the collect or opening prayer; in part it reads: “Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe…”. Here we see right away that Christ is proclaimed as the King of all that exists, and that his kingship extends in a salvific and redemptive way to all creation. In other words, Christ’s Kingdom is not a dominion of warriors and power struggles, but of peace and renewal in all things.
The expression “to restore all things in Christ”, employed in the liturgy today and made famous by Pope Pius X in the early twentieth century, at a time when the kingdoms and royal houses of Europe were teetering, is ultimately taken from the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:10). The word rendered in English as “restore” or “renew” or “sum up” is the Greek term ?νακεφαλαι?σασθαι . Seminary Greek students the world over shudder when they see such a tongue-twister on a quiz or exam, but there is no need to fear: this word describes something being completely re-made or refreshed “from the top” in such a way that it is totally revived.
Exactly this sort of spiritual revitalization is what is referred to in the second reading today, taken from the Letter to the Colossians. There we hear the following exhortation to gratitude: “Let us give thanks to the Father…He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:12-14). The author is urging all Christians to praise God for the fact that in Christ we have found renewal and enduring hope; we have inherited the treasure of his Kingdom, which comes to us in the form of redemption and reconciliation!
This top to bottom re-making of humanity impresses upon us the image of the crucified and risen Christ: “in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him” (Col 1:19-20). Through the cross we have access to the Kingdom and all of its blessings; we also learn that our discipleship toward Christ and our sharing in his Kingdom will always be marked by a tension between the cross and the resurrection—the cross is the boundary between earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God, and the resurrection is the guarantee that the Kingdom of God indeed has come and is awaiting our full participation.
We see all of this played out powerfully in the gospel when the “good thief” addresses Jesus with extraordinary humility and with an obvious sense of God’s justice and mercy, two beautiful gifts we celebrate in a special way today as we formally conclude the “Year of Mercy” convoked by Pope Francis. Utterly helpless, the condemned man pleads: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus replies immediately: “Amen,I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
The thief offers a life of sin and is granted life eternal; he brings naked hope and is given the mantle of salvation; he presents a history of dissolution and discovers a future of redemption. No matter what “powers of darkness” seem to possess us we believe in a God who will “transfer us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. The good thief saw this and rejoiced; may we follow him in putting our faith in Jesus, so that we might enter into the Kingdom of Christ, in whom God has truly restored all things.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.