Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, and today’s Gospel passage gives us an account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. What a contradiction!
He is the King of the universe; instead of a crown of gold, he puts on a crown of thorns. What a contradiction!
He is the King of the universe; instead of a throne, he rules from a cross. What a contradiction!
He is the King of the universe; instead of ministers ministering by his side, he has two thieves/thugs by his left and right. What a contradiction!
He is the King of the Universe; instead of commanding an army, he is ordered around by Roman Soldiers. What a contradiction!
Is it strange that there are so many contradictions around the King we celebrate today? What is the meaning of the word contradiction? The English word contradiction comes from two Latin words, contra meaning “against,” and dicere meaning “to say” or “to speak.” So, contradicere means “to speak against” or “to say something against, someone or something.” In Catholic Theology, a Sign of Contradiction is someone who is spoken against or attacked because of his/her holiness. This position finds its origin in Luke 2:34, when Jesus was presented in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. The old man, “Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: This child is destined for the fall, and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against (contradicted).”
The contradictions we see in him today are not by accident. Simeon already gave a prophecy about him and the contradictions when Jesus was just an eight-day-old baby. These contradictions entail three elements: (a) An attack on Christ or those who are united with Christ, (b) the downfall of those who reject Christ, (c) the rise of those who accept Christ. There is no neutral position when it comes to Christ; you are either for him or against him. We find these elements in the three crosses on Calvary: one is for Jesus, one is for the thief that attacked Jesus, and the third is for the thief that spoke in favor of Jesus.
Here comes another contradiction; the thief, who was for Christ is called the good thief. But how can a thief be good? What is good about being a thief? Is that not a contradiction? And that is what the cross stands for; the cross is a sign of contradiction. It has a vertical beam, which is contradicted by a horizontal beam. In its contradictory nature, the cross is capable of changing our story for good, no matter how bad we were before we got to the foot of the cross. The good thief began as a bad thief; he was already condemned to death, and hell-bound. He met Jesus on the cross in penitence, and he became the first to enter heaven after Jesus opened the gate of heaven. He was so good a thief that he stole heaven. What judgment has the world passed on you? What judgment have you passed on yourself? Meet Jesus on the cross, and he will contradict them.
The battle between good and evil, between Christ and the antichrist has come to the open. If you decide to be on the side of Christ, it could cost you your life. Will you remain faithful to Christ, the King, despite the risk? In today’s Gospel passage, the devil seemed to have put Jesus to death, but the table was turned around, and his death became his instrument of victory over the devil, over death, and over evil.
In the gospel passage, the rulers, the soldiers, and one of the thieves made fun of Jesus on the Cross and asked him to come down from the Cross. But they did not realize that he was on the tree for a mission that he must accomplish. He is not a project-abandoning King; what he begins, he always perfects. Being a King and Shepherd, he came to find and to save all his lost sheep. He found one of his lost sheep, Zacchaeus on a tree (sycamore tree) a few Sundays ago, he told him to come down quickly from the tree, and he said to those who questioned his relationship with Zacchaeus that his mission was to save the lost. After asking Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, Jesus himself has climbed the tree, to be one with the other sheep who are lost on the tree. He is on the tree to liberate the other sheep on the tree. He found one of the lost sheep in the good thief. Jesus must remain on the tree until he secures the freedom and return of all his lost sheep. He brought Zacchaeus down from the tree and assures him, “Today, salvation has come to this house,” and to the good thief on the tree he says, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” As we come to the end of this liturgical year, we are reminded of the end of our earthly lives, we pray that our last hour, our hour of death may find us at the foot of the Cross, and may the last words of Jesus, the King of the universe to us at our final hour be, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise,” through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.