This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. At the end of the celebration of the mystery of redemption, the Church invites us to make a kind of synthesis of what we have celebrated during the past year. And she does it showing us the figure of Christ the King, a title our Redeemer gained by performing the work of our salvation, namely suffering and dying for us.
Usually, when we talk about a king, we think of a powerful man, seated on a throne, wearing a royal mantle, with a crown on his head and a scepter in his hand. Actually, sometimes we portray Christ this way. In the Creed we profess our faith: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” So, we can imagine our Savior in all his glory; on the last day, we will see him “seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:64; Mk 14:62).
But it is not that the way how today’s liturgy presents Christ the King to us. The gospel displays Jesus on the cross, that is to say in the worst moment of his life, when he appears as defeated and mocked by all those who surround him: rulers, soldiers, and even those crucified with him. And yet this is the moment of the revelation of Christ’s kingship. If you notice, each verse of the gospel is about the royal rank of Jesus. The rulers say: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” And we know that Christ (that is, the “Anointed One”; Messiah, in Hebrew) is the title of the long-expected King of Israel. The soldiers call out: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” On the top of the cross there is the inscription of the charge against him: “This is the King of the Jews” (Hic est rex Iudaeorum). One of the criminals crucified with him says to him: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Of course, in all these cases we have to do with mockery and challenge. All these people think that Jesus is either an impostor or a poor fool. They do not even consider the possibility that that man really is the King of the Jews. When Pilate has the inscription written, we do not know whether he also is joking or he believes that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Anyway, all of them are like the characters of a drama, where they proclaim, unawares, the kingship of Jesus.
Among all these people, only one is able to recognize in Jesus the King. He is a criminal as well, the “Good Thief.” He first finds Jesus to be innocent: “We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then, turning to Jesus, he addresses him as a King and throws himself on his mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This simple profession of faith is sufficient for him to be saved: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We have just concluded the Jubilee of Mercy; today Pope Francis has closed the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica. If we want to be saved, as sinners, we cannot but throw ourselves on the Judge’s mercy; we have to recognize him as our King and beg his pardon: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”