One of the most important techniques of community organizing is the power map. Before developing a strategy, a good organizer determines who has the power in a situation and what relationships his or her organization has with them. The most successful organizing action in which I participated was flood prevention in Queens. Our power map discovered that Federal. State and City agencies all had some jurisdiction and they didn’t play well together. This map helped us know who really had power and where they had. We ignored the rest. The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the Church’s year and it asks us “To whom did you give power over your life last year?”
We made the decision to come here today so in some way we gave power to Jesus indeed we call him our King, our ruler, but isn’t he a very strange one?
Let us look at the reading today. He is brought to the place of execution. Interestingly, Luke says “they came to the place”. This expression is used only one other time in Scripture when Abraham brings Isaac to be sacrificed. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar. (Ge 22:9). The Jews believed that this took place at the same place, Mt Moriah and at the same time of year, Passover, as Jesus’s Passion. Jesus is being offered, like Isaac, as a sacrifice. Is this the action of a King? Kings may have themselves offered sacrifice with great solemnity and pomp, but here it is Jesus who is offered. Why?
First, let us remember the meaning and effect of sacrifice. For us, this might simply mean that Jesus is providing an example of faithfulness and humility. Wonderful things and true enough but not what is meant here. Sacrifice forms a covenant, a relationship between humans, God and his family. Jesus creates a “new and everlasting covenant”. Because he is King, though in a way no one would have guessed, it is both a completion of all that was before, and one that cannot be surpassed no matter how long the world lasts.
The leaders admit that he saved others. They acknowledge the miracles, although they tried to associate him with demons (Luke 11:7). Jesus himself addresses this directly with the miracle of the paralyzed man:
“What is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’’—he said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” (Lk 5:23–24).
By saving the leaders and the soldiers both meant physical repair. A king in the usual sense of the word can pardon people from crimes, and some cultures believed in the King’s touch- his ability to cure some diseases. But Jesus the King added another dimension: he offered complete healing, body and soul, now and forever
If the rulers and the soldiers did not understand Jesus one of the criminals with whom he was crucified did. He asked Jesus to remember him when he entered his kingdom. He acknowledged Jesus as King. What an extraordinary insight! They are being executed in the most horrible way imaginable and he asks Jesus to save him. Indeed, his is one of the few times that anyone addresses Jesus by his first name in Luke’s gospel. A name which means “The Lord Saves”. Jesus’ response is also powerful: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:43).
When Jesus starts a sentence with Amen, he is consciously acting as a ruler. It means: “I command”. The “good thief’s” salvation will be more than freedom from pain and suffering. He will be with Jesus. That is the kingdom over which Jesus reigns. It is based on the covenant he forms through his crucifixion. Being saved is being part of Him and the people the community, the church, He will form at Pentecost.
He tells the good thief that he will be with him in Paradise. Although paradise is a Persian word it reflects a very Jewish idea of the afterlife. By the time of Jesus many Jews, mostly Pharisees. believed that God’s justice demanded an afterlife and a general judgment when all would be revealed. As Jews, this must be physical, so what happens to those who have died before the return of Jesus at the time of Judgement? The New Testament does not offer a definitive answer: both Matt (Matt 12:40) and Paul (I Thess 4:13-16) seem to believe that at least the good would rest in a sleeplike state. Luke takes a different approach. As we saw with the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Lazarus is at the bosom of Abraham, enjoying a good life in a paradise, an enclosed and fruitful garden. A beautiful image in any context, but here an image of the court of Jesus the King. He is with the poor, the outcast and those marginalized in their time on earth.
This should come as no surprise to us. We have read Luke for the last year and as we have seen the way to understand Luke is with Mary the mother of Jesus as our guide. She began the Gospel proclaiming:
52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
53 The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty. (Lk 1:52–53).
As she is herself told by the prophet Simeon: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (Lk 2:34)
We are asked today if we got the message of the whole year. Our power map will lead to Jesus, but if we use the map reading skills that the world teaches us, we will be with the rulers and solders taunting Jesus as he dies. But if we use the skills Luke taught and Mary lived, we will still arrive at the cross, but will encounter a King who, as Paul proclaims, will be “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father and live, and may I add give, a new life.” (Col 2:12)