11.20.2022Christ King of the Universe
Diego Velazquez was the official painter to the then king of Spain Philip IV and although he completed on a few religious paintings this is actually one of his most famous works of art.
It depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus in a very understated way when compared to some of his other works from the same period.
With Christ Crucified, the image is much more minimalist and has a very paired down and respectful feel.
There is no supporting scene or any other people to focus on just a very raw and bare full front on near life size nude painting.
It currently resides in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Luke 23: 35-43
35 “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!’ 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38 There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong’. 42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. 43 He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”.
This must be one of the most powerful verses in the whole of Sacred Scripture, because you have human beings making fun of God Himself! It is quite chilling if you can get your head around the fact that mere mortals are scorning God. We must remember that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; if only those who were mocking him knew it!
The Taunting of Jesus
This Gospel challenges us to expand our notions of who deserves mercy. The passage is structured around three instances of mockery levelled against Jesus (verses 35, 36, 39). Stating only that Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals (verse 33), Luke’s narration does not dwell on the mechanics of crucifixion. Luke’s audience would have been aware of its horrific details. Nevertheless, the mockeries communicate how dismal things have become for Jesus. These taunts get closer and closer to Him, giving the reader a sense that the forces against Jesus are closing in on Him. The Jewish leaders are close enough for Jesus to hear them; the soldiers, who had already taken His garments (verse 34), come up to Jesus as they mock Him; and the final act of derision comes from someone right next to Jesus.
Each of these taunts challenges Jesus to save Himself as a demonstration of his identity. In their calls for Jesus to demonstrate His power to save, the leaders, the soldiers, and the criminal address him with titles that from their perspective add to the ridicule but represent valid affirmations of Jesus’ identity for Luke and his readers (“Messiah of God,” Luke 23:35, 39; “chosen one,” verse 35 “King of the Jews,” verses 37, 38). They ironically pronounce Christian truths about Jesus without realizing it, unable to see that Jesus’ identity as “Messiah,” “Chosen OQne,” and “King” is inextricably linked to His crucifixion. The salvation Jesus offers takes place through the Cross, not apart from it.
The taunting Jesus receives from one of the criminals offends the other criminal crucified with Jesus. We can only reflect on what was going through their minds. This second criminal accepts that they are “condemned justly” and deserve their punishment, whereas Jesus “has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). How he knows that Jesus is innocent is not indicated, but his statement continues Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ innocence (23:4, 14-15, 22, 47). Interestingly, it is not stated what the criminals had done to deserve crucifixion.
Instead, Luke focuses on how these criminals position themselves before Jesus while in their guilty state. The first criminal joins the others in spurning Jesus and demands that Jesus save them all from being crucified (Luke 23:39). Luke presents this criminal’s actions as a serious affront against Jesus, using blasphemy to narrate his act of deriding Jesus.
The second criminal also asks something of Jesus, but his earnest request contrasts with the first criminal’s selfish, impertinent demand. While others in the scene use titles to mock Jesus, showing they do not really believe Jesus to be Messiah and King, this second criminal accepts in utter sincerity the inscription’s identification of Jesus as “King” (verse 38), asking that he be remembered when Jesus comes into His kingdom (verse 42; see also Psalm 106:4-5). He speaks to Jesus in a startlingly personal and intimate fashion, addressing Jesus directly by name and not with a sarcastic use of a title.
The Mercy of Jesus
In response, Jesus grants him salvation. Luke adopts the term “paradise” from the Jewish literature of this period; it signifies the realm of eternal bliss in God’s presence where righteous persons go after death. Jesus finds this criminal worthy of being in God’s presence with all the righteous (including Jesus himself), even though by the Roman state and by his own admission he had been “justly” considered worthy of condemnation.
The second criminal received such abundant mercy from Jesus. He acknowledged his own guilt and Jesus’ innocence and made a sincere request that Jesus remember him, but this does not necessarily represent an obvious plea for forgiveness or a full-scale repentance on his part. Regardless, Jesus uses His power as “King” to dispense mercy in a boundlessly gracious fashion that far exceeds what is asked of Him. As it has been said, “More abundant is the favour shown than the request made”.
Luke’s Crucifixion Scene shows the wide scope of Jesus’ offer of salvation. Whatever evil or crime one has done is no barrier for acceptance into Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus offers direct access to salvation to persons worthy of the most extreme punishment for their sins. Even those carrying out the crucifixion and the mockeries can be forgiven by Jesus (Luke 23:34). And though He responds to the second criminal’s request, Jesus ignores the calls to save himself, because it is through the Cross that He comes into His Kingdom, where those deemed unrighteous may share in the salvation of the righteous. His reign is not a death-dealing system intent on punishment, but a “paradise” that “today” extends even to those whom we do not think deserve it.
The Feast of Christ the King overturns all our worldly ideas about “Kingship” and invites us to reject the dark and narrow focus dominating much of our social discourse. Instead, we are urged to take the long view and “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” and to receive, even in our brokenness, the divine inheritance which the whole of Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection gained for all of creation.
It is very interesting to note that there is no fear of God for those people who taunted Jesus –I suppose it is because they have failed to recognise God-. The implication is that even those who should have known better, ‘the rulers’, failed to recognise God before them. They should have been quivering at what they have done to God, but they do not, because they have not realised the error of their ways.
Today, we have the same scenario with people who mock the very existence of God because they fail to recognise the presence of God in our world. Atheists, for one reason or another, deny God completely. Indeed, we even have Christians who fail to believe that the bread and wine at Holy Mass truly becomes the Body and Blood of Christ and therefore treat his presence as symbolic rather than as being real.
There are Christians who cannot get their head around that fact that Jesus truly rose body and soul from the dead. For them it is too far-fetched and they believe that Jesus only rose in terms of his Spirit; and yet, the Gospel writers make it clear that Jesus rose physically from the dead because He eats a piece of fish in front of His disciples after He has risen from the dead.
Contrast that with the criminal – probably not an educated man – who saw in Christ, the Son of God. This criminal, the dregs of society, recognised the presence of God that even the educated rulers did not. I find that quite incredible! And what is more, he somewhat surprisingly rebukes the other criminal. Against everyone else, he stands firm in his belief. It is a beautiful and touching moment. A broken man, a sinner, recognises the ‘broken’ Jesus and stands up for him. Who could have believed such a thing could happen? And in that moment, he is saved ... irrespective of what his past life has been like. That one moment of courage and kindness has wiped out the mistakes of a lifetime and He is promised eternity with God.
Christ Our King
Christ our King most Holy Saviour of us all.
Teach us how to praise Thee
Guide us to your call.
See the flowers blooming, They reflect your love.
Hear the choir singing Through the realms above.
See the vast blue ocean, See the clouds above
Ever rolling onward, Like your wondrous love.
Hear the organ thunder. With this melody.
Hear the Church bells ringing, Giving praise to Thee.
Andrew Pell 1978
We find it hard to watch Jesus in such pain. He is innocent, He ‘has done nothing wrong’. Yet by his Cross He has redeemed the world. Can we believe that God somehow brings good out of the suffering of the innocent today?
Salvation begins its work here and now: The second criminal recognises him as a just man, and humbly asks his help. He hears the promise of eternal joy from the lips of Jesus. When we are suffering, we can turn to Jesus and hear the same words. ‘Today’ means ‘in God’s good time’.
Glamour and splendour mark the presence of earthly royalty. Jesus is not recognisable as King to those expecting power or glory. We need to train ourselves to look for signs of Jesus’ Reign. His real identity can be seen only by the humble.
The ‘good thief’ saw things as they were: He knew his own sinfulness; He recognised Jesus’ character; He asked for little yet was rewarded for his honesty. Humility brings a true perspective and is the ground for meeting God. We pray for humility.
 Quoted in Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Gospel According to Luke (X–XXIV)”, Anchor Bible 28A, New York: Doubleday, 1985, p. 1508.