Everyone is invited into the Kingdom. Anyone who wants to participate is welcome to learn from Jesus how to live as a daughter or son of God in the here and now. So, all sorts and conditions of folks join the merry band to practice living inside God’s Kingdom here and now.
They follow Jesus because he must be the Messiah, the King, who is bringing God’s future into our present. But then comes the shocking news, which all four gospels tell us in great detail, that when Jesus comes to Jerusalem to claim his throne: it turns out the throne is a cross. The sign Pilate has put above his head says it all, abbreviated on many crucifixes as INRI: in Latin the first letter of each word: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
And on his cross-throne Jesus begins to reign. His first edict is as strange as his throne: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
No revenge here, no hatred or call to violence for his followers, but flooding the world with the mercy of God. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Is this true?
The soldiers nailing him to the cross know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to crucifixion. But they don’t know the true identity of the one they are crucifying. All they see is a poor Jew who serves an empire other than Caesar’s.
Jesus forgives his crucifiers, but that’s not all: This is a universal forgiveness for all of us are blinded by Mortal Mind’s unwillingness to see God in Christ, God in neighbor, and God in creation and who therefore treat people as things to be used instead of as reflections of God into the world.
After the resurrection and the outpouring of Spirit people are beginning to be set free of Mortal Mind and to see what really is: Per The Letter to the Colossians: “Christ is the image of the invisible God…for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead….For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Christ the King forgives his subjects for our blindness and brutality towards him, which includes our sins against one another, for we remember Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?” “Truly I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:44-45
So, the central question for us is whether we daily walk through the door opened by his forgiveness and act as loyal citizens of God’s Kingdom or do we refuse to walk through that door and remain in open rebellion.
We we see this universal story in the small, 3-person play acted out by Jesus and two criminals. One chooses to reject the King and his forgiveness. The other accepts Jesus as King and receives the gift which passes all understanding: today you will be with me in paradise.
This past Thursday at MCI-Concord Deacon Bruce reads this gospel to 6 convicts gathered for the Episcopal Mass in the Catholic Chapel. I wonder what they are feeling, as they watch Jesus in direct conversation with criminals like themselves. What are they feeling when Jesus offers paradise to a criminal who will be dead in a few hours and who can’t make restitution to his victims or live a good life to prove his repentance is real? No way can he earn this gift.
All he can say is: “I deserve what I’m getting. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The other criminal could have received the same blessing, but he chooses to remain stuck in his anger and guilt, remain King of his own life. He has an invitation to the party but he doesn’t want to go.
You and I may be tempted to watch this small drama as outsiders, since we aren’t in prison. But that would be a mistake.
It seems to me the biggest help we need, those of us who are baptized and daily seeking to live faithfully, is this: we need help believing we are already living inside the Kingdom so that our isolation, loneliness, fear, worry, failure, and mistreatment of others have been overcome.
We need help to see through appearances and know that every moment is shot full of the grandeur of God. Reminds me: One day when I was in seminary decades ago, it was a day pretty much like today: windy, rainy, and cold. The professor walked in and said: This is the day that the Lord hath made…and He should be ashamed of himself!”
To be able to see reality that is deeper than the five senses can reach. To know that Spirit sustains all. To see God beneath this human form.
The cross is a strange throne! Jesus is a strange King, who demonstrates the Kingdom even in the midst of suffering and death.
Of course, something in us wants a Leader who lives in a palace, commands armies, and controls nations. What we get instead is a criminal on a cross, dying in public to save the public bringing God’s future into the present, so we demonstrate the Kingdom by living forgiveness, acceptance, and healing alongside Christ our King.