Reflection on Luke 23:33-43 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig
Well, as the GPS in my car says when we get to the end of the journey, “We have arrived.” In this Gospel lection, we have arrived with Jesus at his destination. Here on this cross where he has come to take his place as a final living and unmistakable testimony God's plan for God’s kingdom.
In this long run of Ordinary Time since the second Sunday after Pentecost we have been journeying with Jesus and the disciples as chronicled in the Gospel of Luke. We heard early on that “Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem,” and we have followed as he has called his followers, healed the sick, set people free from demons, raised the dead and preached and taught by word and example the radical message about the kingdom of God.
Luke has shown to us over and over examples of Jesus in action…the very same Jesus who came to us early in this Gospel with his mission statement taken from Isaiah, that his task was to bring “…., “good news to the poor...release to the captives...sight to the blind,[and] liberty [for] those who are oppressed.”
We have had ongoing lessons these past weeks from Jesus in the Gospels about the importance of ordering our priorities, letting go of our attachments, aligning ourselves with the poor and putting our riches and ourselves on the line for what we say we believe.
Jesus makes it clear again and again that his is God’s mission, God’s will and plan for salvation and that through his own life, death and resurrection, he is here specifically to manifest that plan to the world….to show us very clearly who God is, what God is really about and what God’s kingdom on earth is and can be because he also provides a way for us to be more like God. It is important that we understand that in inviting us to be part of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth Jesus was calling us to an entirely different way of being in relationship with each other and with God. Jesus proclaims a whole new reality where everything is changed. Not just the ruler, but the rules and the relationships are different in this realm of God. The very essence of who and whose we are, and how we are called to be is challenged.
It is also important that we understand that God’s kingdom, God’s realm, is here among us right now, happening this very day. Because Jesus was and is…lived, died and rose, we are citizens of this world and citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, too.
We live in two worlds. We understand that faith is no longer a private affair between us and God with no implications in our larger life, and because of that we cannot simply conduct lives as if this were not the case. And yet we must live in a world that will never completely abide by God’s love, compassion and justice either. It is a paradox for us and it creates a tension as we attempt to live faithfully as servants of this king of ours.
Many of us have had this experience, something happens in our lives and we just know that it’s one of “those opportunities” where God is calling and pulling us to that Gospel edge, those times when we feel acutely that tension between being part of creating God’s kingdom and living comfortably in this one. Those times when….
• We know are called to speak out for justice when it would be more prudent to be silent
• We are called to offer witness on another’s behalf when it would be safer to just mind our own business
• we are asked to use our resources to provide food or clothing or shelter for someone when we would much rather use them in other ways
• We are called to forgive someone when it would feel much more satisfactory to just nurse our grudge
• We are called to love when we would rather stay indifferent
• We are asked to be the one to take action when we would rather let someone else do it
• We are drawn into the messy, hard work of relationship with those difficult and demanding humans that God keeps gracing our lives with
• We are called to the radical hospitality that that allows for deep transformational connection, when we would much rather just be polite.
We may try to ignore these promptings, just hoping they will go away. And sometimes they do. But sometimes they don’t. God can be very persistent. We may accept the call and go on a journey with Jesus. And when we do, sometimes we make it all the way to Jerusalem, following him all the way to the cross. But more often, because we are so wonderfully human, we get stuck somewhere along the way. Because, like the young rich man, we have so many things we cannot leave, we walk away sad. Or frightened and threatened, like Peter, we might leave him in the courtyard…”Who me, no, I don’t know that Jesus fellow!” (In whatever guise he happens to be wearing that day). Lost, we flounder and falter, plummeting back into our earthy realm, forgetting who we are and who Jesus is.
This is our Jesus, this king of a different realm on that cross. The one who says “Father forgive them.” The one who says to the criminal at his side, “Today you are with me forever.” This is also the Jesus who says to Peter on the beach, “Do you love me? Then tend my lambs, feed my sheep.” This is the Jesus that calls us to mission, calls us to live and work in the world. To be citizens of this world yet not conformed to its expectations or limitations. This is the Jesus who calls us to live as he lived, forgive as he forgives, love as he loves and make God’s kingdom of Shalom a reality on this earth now. May it be so. Amen.