Feast of Christ the King
Sunday 20th November 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Lk 23: 35-43
The people stood there watching. The leaders mocked Jesus saying, ‘He saved others – now let him save himself, if he is the Christ, the Chosen One of God.’ The soldiers mocked him as well, coming up and offering him vinegar, while saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was an inscription written above him that read in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, ‘This is the King of the Jews’.
And then one of the criminals hanging there cursed him saying, ‘If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him saying, ‘Don’t you have any fear of God. We all got the same judgement but we deserved it for what we had done. This man did nothing wrong.’ And to Jesus he said, ‘Jesus, remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said, ‘In all truth I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Overjoyed I heard the cry
to go to God’s house.
And now here we are
standing within God’s city.
The city of God, Jerusalem
is well built,
to become the people of God.
The praise of God
is our rule for life.
Within God’s house
we know true judgment.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, on the cross your Son revealed the foundation of his kingdom as he reached out in forgiving love to those who crucified him. May your Spirit guide our hearts and minds so that we too may join the good thief walking with Jesus in the garden of Paradise. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In the aftermath of WWI, the rise of nationalism led some governments to make ever increasing demands for allegiance from their citizens. In response, this celebration was instituted to affirm that humanity’s highest dignity comes in following Jesus Christ in love and in service of others. In the revised liturgy of Vatican II, the Sundays of the A, B and C focus on different aspects of Christ’s leadership. In the Gospel of Year A, he is shown judging each person according to how he or she served the weak and marginalised. In Year B, Jesus in his trial by Pilate teaches that is kingship is not based in violent power but on the revelation of the truth. In this year’s Gospel, the focus is on Jesus’ way of salvation.
The Gospel reading begins with the people looking on. They not only watch Jesus die but see four different responses to Jesus’ power to save. The Gospel author means for us to stand with those people and chose which response we will make. The Jewish leaders mock Jesus by recalling the power he showed in his preaching tours and taunt him using the title of ‘Messiah’ the anointed religious saviour promised by God. The Roman soldiers mock Jesus as though he was a failed political leader, with the offering of the vinegar probably being a parody of service at court. The thief who mocks him has no interest in religious or civil power; he simply wants to be released from his horrific pain. Understanding Jesus to be weak in this situation, he exerts what little power he has to ridicule Jesus. The response of the other thief is totally surprising. He recognises his own sinfulness and the innocence of Jesus. Based on that, he has the faith to see the new form of salvation Jesus is offering. He realises that Jesus is going to a new Kingdom, beyond human understanding. He does not have the temerity to ask to go with Jesus – only to be remembered. But ‘remembrance’ is a powerful force in the Gospel – in a real sense, it makes a person present. Jesus’ response to him is profoundly touching and positive. ‘Today’ in this Gospel has always meant the Lord’s day of salvation. What is promised to this thief is not just salvation at a future time, but an entry with Jesus into the fullness of life and love. Indeed, this humble, honest, repentant sinner is the first fruit of salvation.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Our Australian Federal Parliament is not known for its adult behaviour, good manners or discipline during Question Time. Rather childish insult and abusive name-calling is behaviour to which we have become too familiar. I know of not one person who is not appalled at this …and surely the politicians know the disdain with which their behaviour is regarded. Yet when they go into the bear pit, they don’t seem to be able to control themselves. Just what is it about insults that they draw the worst out of a person?
…or the best? In this Sunday’s Gospel we see Jesus ruthlessly attacked from all sides – by religious leaders, soldiers and even the thief dying with him – and he reacts to these insults as he has done throughout his ministry: by not attacking back. In the past, he has ignored or firmly rebuked insults, and never has he reacted in kind. This is not just patience on his part. The source of his dignity comes not from self-control. It comes from the reality that he is grounded in the love of the Father. His sense of self, his sense of dignity is so sure that no insults can touch him. Hence, he is able to respond in the best, loving way in each situation.
So what often happens with us? We too often rely too much on other people’s estimation of ourselves for our sense of self, for our dignity. And when we do this, we build on sand, and built on sand, we are vulnerable. And when we are vulnerable, we react to protect ourselves, too readily, often too forcefully, and even too aggressively. Then the name-calling begins and the descent into shameful behaviour accelerates. Defending ourselves in this way goes nowhere. The only way we can respond well is to follow the example of Jesus Christ. We call him King not to give him honours but rather to acknowledge his leadership of us. As he found his dignity in the love of the Father, he calls us to follow him and know ourselves as sons and daughters of God.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
At the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel is the notion of salvation. The Jewish leaders have their idea of what salvation by the Messiah will be: the reestablishment of the state of Israel, with a people faithfully following the Law as they understood it. The soldiers’ idea of salvation is of a free state, powerful both politically and militarily. The mocking thief’s idea of salvation is freedom from the pain and agony that he is enduring. All these forms of salvation involve freedom from a negative state that is imposed from without. This is not the salvation that Jesus offers.
The salvation that Jesus offers is not from pain or difficulty or humiliation or sickness or failure or any other negative experience we might like to name…except one. The salvation that Jesus offers is from sin. Sin is the only reality that can cut us off from the love of God. Jesus came and lived our human life and died our death that we might accept the strength and power to resist sin and live for God. How we are to do this is shown in the response of the Good Thief to Jesus. He recognised himself as a sinner and turned to Jesus for salvation. His agonising death on the cross continued – he was not saved from that but rather he went through it with Jesus.
And this is to be our experience as well. Rarely will we be saved from the many and myriad negative experiences we undergo. But we have the assurance of the presence of Jesus being with us as we go through these. His presence will firstly strengthen us against the sin that tempts us in such situations. Too often, this will come in the form of a false salvation – an easy way out that does not respect ourselves or others. Then, he will strengthen us with patience to endure. Remaining faithful will finally led to a recognition of the transformation that grace can bring in this negative experience. Just as Jesus does not save us out of our situation, neither does he save from without. Rather he comes with us, upholding, strengthening and leading us from within.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- Titian Christ and the Good Thief
- Orthodox icon, Christ Pantocrator
- Sculpture by Lynne Kiefer Kobylecky of Jesus and the Good Thief
- Christ between the two Thieves by Macha Chmakoff
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on how you react when you receive putdowns or even insults. If you notice that your tendency is to react in kind, mull on what happens if you first affirm your dignity as a child of God and ask for the grace to respond with love.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Think over what salvation means to you. Consider the times that you have wanted to be saved and how you wanted it done. Did you want to get out of the situation you were in, or was your desire for the strength to endure, or even transform, that situation?
At this point in time, what are the difficult situations you face? As you pray over these situations, discern the grace of salvation Jesus is offering you.
Rest in the love of your God.