THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST, THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE
First Reading: 2Sm 5:1-3; Psalm: 122. R. v. 1; Second Reading: Col 1:12-20; Gospel: Lk 23:35-43
THE KING AND THE TWO THIEVES
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
A priest was sick and dying on his deathbed. He phoned two of his friends and requested their presence to make his last wish. One was a politician and the other a lawyer. They both hurried down to the hospital and stood on both side of priest’s deathbed watching and waiting for him to make his last wish. The priest held their hands from both side of his bed and closed his eyes. While his two friends waited, they ran out of patience and inquired from the priest what he wanted. The priest opened his eyes and said to them, “Jesus died in-between two thieves. I would like to die the same way.”
You may not agree with me, but I think it was amazingly interesting that Jesus died in-between two thieves. It is even more interesting to hear the conversation of these two thieves as they hung on the cross with Jesus in-between them. The first of them who spoke said, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and save us.” But Jesus said nothing to him. Then the second thief intervened immediately and rebuked his partner in crime saying, “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.”
We may be very quick to condemn the first thief for his mockery and rash judgment of Jesus. But we should not forget that suffering and pain has a way of taking its toll on us. This although do not give us a free pass to be insensitive or to make some unkind utterances due to some distressing experiences. After all, the second thief who suffered similar fate with the first spoke differently. He upbraided his colleague for his lack of honesty and self judgment. Sometimes in life, we run away from consequential realities and blame them on God rather than take responsibility for our actions.
But come to think of it, who are these two thieves? What are their names, ages and gender? And where do they even come from? Let us not overthink or wander too far. Because these two thieves are here. They are you and me. We don’t have to feel insulted about this. Because I’m not literally saying we are thieves. I’m only saying that we often react like these two thieves.
The roles of these two thieves are clear illustrations of the two shades of life. In life, we have those who shift blames and those who take responsibility for their actions. Those who complain versus those who act. Those who are dishonest and those who are honest. The embittered and the warm-hearted. And those who care less of their salvation in contrast to those work for their salvation. Where do we belong?
Some unfortunate events of life have a way of taking its toll on us. When we are suddenly diagnosed of cancer. When we lose the job we so much love, especially one with a good pay. When we lose a parent, a spouse, a child or a friend. When your spouse suddenly betrays your love and trust and starts a new relationship somewhere. When our marriages begin to crumble and we fear that the man or the woman we so much love would wake up one day and say to us “I want out.” When we feel that our parents are not there for us, don’t respect our dreams or even care to know what exactly we want or how we feel. When we see ourselves grow old and feel we don’t get the much love we deserve from our children. These experiences can be devastating and can make us distraught and depressed.
In times like this, just like the first thief in the gospel of today, we often we feel that God is just there looking at us in our troubles and pains and making no effort at all to help.
Now, this is hard to say. But the truth is that in some cases, some of these unfortunate events that happen in our lives are caused by us while some are caused by others. But whatever be the case, it will be inappropriate to blame them on God. Recall that Jesus did not say a word to the unreflective and judgmental thief who jeered at him. But only to the good thief who instead of judging or complaining made a prayer request. This should say something to us. When we are faced with some unfortunate experiences of life, we should pray rather than complain and blame them on God. God answers those who pray and not those who complain and nag at life.
Very importantly, we should never think that God is completely disconnected from our sufferings and pains. Because Jesus is not like earthly kings who sit comfortably on their thrones with their crown of gold resting peacefully on their heads. Earthly kings who can only empathise with their subjects but are not directly connected with their sufferings. Jesus is the king who knew and felt suffering. He is the king of the universe. His throne is the cross and he hangs on it in pain and agony for the sake of the world. He wears not a crown of gold but a crown of thorns that re-echoes his connection with suffering and pain. He died in the midst of us, in-between the good and the bad to reconcile us to himself. Who then can say that Jesus does not know what it means to suffer?
My fellow sinners hanging on the cross with Jesus. We can choose today to identify with the good thief who repented and begged Jesus for salvation. We can do this by accepting our sins and faults and choosing to repent from them. And by trusting and depending on God alone in all circumstances. It is only then that we can hear that soothing voice of Jesus saying to us, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, King of the Universe, help us to be conscious that you know and feel our sufferings; and grant us the grace to appreciate your sacrifice and trust in your salvation. Amen.