Lexegete™ | Year C | St. Luke
Christ the King/Last Sunday after Pentecost
November 21, 2010 (Lectionary 34)
Psalm 46 (10)
Luke 1:68-79 (69)
Prayer of the Day
O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you
is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give
thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us,
and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty
, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. Blessed is the one who comes in the name | of the Lord.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our an- | cestor David. Alleluia. (Mark 11:9)
1a. CONTEXT: Luke 23:35-43
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King
in 1925 in order to celebrate the authority of Christ
which shall lead all humanity into the peace of Christ in
the kingdom of Christ. It is now celebrated on the last
Sunday before Advent. Lutherans now celebrate the feast
and, while it is not referred to by name, the 1979
Episcopal BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER provides propers for it.
The gospel appointed for the day displays the paradox
of Christian worship of Christ as king. The one place in
the gospels where Christ is clearly depicted as king is on
the cross, where he is crucified as a pretender to
Messiahship. At the moment of degradation, suffering, and
death, a caption above him reads, in Luke's words "This is
the King of the Jews." The earliest Christian depictions
of the crucifixion displayed this paradox by presenting a
crowned Christ reigning from the cross, the so-called
"Christus victor" iconography.
The cross has scandalized non-Christians. Celsus, an
informed and perceptive second-century philosopher echoed
the Luke's mockers when he wrote of Jesus: "If he really
was so great he ought, in order to display his divinity,
to have disappeared from the cross." [CONTRA CELSUM 2.68,
tr. Henry Chadwick, p. 118]. One also thinks of a near
disaster which befell Matteo Ricci, the sixteenth-century
Jesuit missionary to China. The discovery of a highly
realistic crucifix among his personal effects deeply
shocked the Chinese and gave rise to suspicion that he
secretly engaged in malignant magical practices. Ricci,
in the words of Jonathan Spence, "found it hard to
marshall adequate explanation of the significance of
Christ crucified. 'On the one hand,' as he wrote later
(speaking of himself in the third person as he often did),
'he didn't want to say that that was our God, it seeming
difficult to him among these ignorant people, and at such
a time, to talk of these high mysteries, ...on the other,
because he saw all the people turned against him, full of
disgust for the cruelty which, it seemed to them, he had
done to that man' --that is, to Christ."[Jonathan Spence,
THE MEMORY PALACE OF MATTEO RICCI, pp. 246.]
Luke, departing from traditions otherwise attested,
dramatically intensifies the paradox of Christ's reigning
from the cross by including in his narrative Jesus'
forgiveness of a penitent criminal crucified beside him.
This is the crowning touch in a ministry consistently
directed toward society's outcasts. It is also
theologically appropriate. Forgiving the penitent thief
is, as Joseph Fitzmyer points out, the way Luke makes
clear the salvific character of Jesus' death [THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO LUKE I-IX, p. 23]. It is precisely that
ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness which brought
Jesus to the cross. In the words of Jurgen Moltmann [THE
CRUCIFIED GOD, p. 130.]:
Anyone who proclaimed the coming of the kingdom
and the closeness of God as prevenient and unconditional
grace to those who according to the law were rightly rejected and
could have no hope, and who demonstrated this coming grace by
giving himself to those outside the law and the
transgressors of the law, who placed himself above the authority of Moses,
and who was all the time no more than 'a carpenter's son from
Nazareth', wa inevitably bound to come into conflict with
the devout and the ruling class and their laws, and from the
human point of view was bound to lose this conflict. The conflict was
provoked not by his incomprehensible claim to authority as such, but by
the discrepancy between a claim which arrogated to itself the
righteousness of God and his unprotected and therefore vulnerable
1b. TEXT: Luke 23:33-43
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]]* And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
23οἱ δὲ ἐπέκειντο φωναῖς μεγάλαις αἰτούμενοι αὐτὸν σταυρωθῆναι, καὶ κατίσχυον αἱ φωναὶ αὐτῶν. 24καὶ Πιλᾶτος ἐπέκρινεν γενέσθαι τὸ αἴτημα αὐτῶν: 25ἀπέλυσεν δὲ τὸν διὰ στάσιν καὶ φόνον βεβλημένον εἰς φυλακὴν ὃν ᾐτοῦντο, τὸν δὲ Ἰησοῦν παρέδωκεν τῷ θελήματι αὐτῶν. 26Καὶ ὡς ἀπήγαγον αὐτόν, ἐπιλαβόμενοι Σίμωνά τινα Κυρηναῖον ἐρχόμενον ἀπ' ἀγροῦ ἐπέθηκαν αὐτῷ τὸν σταυρὸν φέρειν ὄπισθεν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 27Ἠκολούθει δὲ αὐτῷ πολὺ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ γυναικῶν αἳ ἐκόπτοντο καὶ ἐθρήνουν αὐτόν. 28στραφεὶς δὲ πρὸς αὐτὰς [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Θυγατέρες Ἰερουσαλήμ, μὴ κλαίετε ἐπ' ἐμέ: πλὴν ἐφ' ἑαυτὰς κλαίετε καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν, 29ὅτι ἰδοὺ ἔρχονται ἡμέραι ἐν αἷς ἐροῦσιν, Μακάριαι αἱ στεῖραι καὶ αἱ κοιλίαι αἳ οὐκ ἐγέννησαν καὶ μαστοὶ οἳ οὐκ ἔθρεψαν. 30τότε ἄρξονται λέγειν τοῖς ὄρεσιν, Πέσετε ἐφ' ἡμᾶς, καὶ τοῖς βουνοῖς, Καλύψατε ἡμᾶς: 31ὅτι εἰ ἐν τῷ ὑγρῷ ξύλῳ ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἐν τῷ ξηρῷ τί γένηται; 32Ἤγοντο δὲ καὶ ἕτεροι κακοῦργοι δύο σὺν αὐτῷ ἀναιρεθῆναι. 33καὶ ὅτε ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκεῖ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὃν μὲν ἐκ δεξιῶν ὃν δὲ ἐξ ἀριστερῶν. 34[[ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν, Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.]] διαμεριζόμενοι δὲ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἔβαλον κλήρους. 35καὶ εἱστήκει ὁ λαὸς θεωρῶν. ἐξεμυκτήριζον δὲ καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες λέγοντες, Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, σωσάτω ἑαυτόν, εἰ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ ἐκλεκτός. 36ἐνέπαιξαν δὲ αὐτῷ καὶ οἱ στρατιῶται προσερχόμενοι, ὄξος προσφέροντες αὐτῷ 37καὶ λέγοντες, Εἰ σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, σῶσον σεαυτόν. 38ἦν δὲ καὶ ἐπιγραφὴ ἐπ' αὐτῷ, Ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων οὗτος. 39Εἷς δὲ τῶν κρεμασθέντων κακούργων ἐβλασφήμει αὐτὸν λέγων, Οὐχὶ σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός; σῶσον σεαυτὸν καὶ ἡμᾶς. 40ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἕτερος ἐπιτιμῶν αὐτῷ ἔφη, Οὐδὲ φοβῇ σὺ τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ κρίματι εἶ; 41καὶ ἡμεῖς μὲν δικαίως, ἄξια γὰρ ὧν ἐπράξαμεν ἀπολαμβάνομεν: οὗτος δὲ οὐδὲν ἄτοπον ἔπραξεν. 42καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ἰησοῦ, μνήσθητί μου ὅταν ἔλθῃς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν σου. 43καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμήν σοι λέγω, σήμερον μετ' ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 23: 35-43
v. 35-36, 39 [ kai heistekei ho laos theoron.
exemukterizon de kai hoi archontes . . . enepaixan de
autoi kai hoi stratiotai . . . Heis de ton kremasthenton
kakourgon eblasphemei auton.]--Note the dramatic
character of the series: the people stood around
(pluperfect) looking, the ruler taunted (imperfect), the
soldiers mocked (aorist), the thief blasphemed (aorist).
While they are only second in order, the use of the
imperfect for the rulers, implying continual scoffing
proceding from a special malice, singles out them for the
greatest blame. The other tenses imply an action that was
done once and completed. [Theoron] and [exemukterizon]
allude to Ps. 22: 19. The contrast between the relatively
innocent role of the people ([theoron] implys gawking at a
spectacle) and the role of the rulers is striking.
v. 37 [en de kai epigraphe ep' autoi]--Fitzmyer (THE
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE X-XXIV, p. 152) points out that
the inscription on the cross constitutes the only thing
actually written about Jesus during his lifetime.
vv. 37 & 39 Note the contrast between the question
which the Roman soldiers ask, "If you are the king of the
Jews, save yourself," and that which the (presumably
Jewish) criminal asks, "Are you not the Messiah? Save
yourself and us?" The Jewish rulers (v. 35) also refer to
Jesus as "the Messiah." "King of the Jews" and "Messiah"
are equivalent terms used from different perspectives.
v. 40 [Oude phobei su ton Theon;] -- The first
criminal's question expresses shock that his companion
would speak in such a way in the face of God's judgment.
Note that both criminals ask for salvation.
v. 41 [ouden atopon] -- Not only has Jesus done
nothing criminal, he has done nothing "out of place."
v. 42 [Iesou, mnestheti mou hotan eltheis eis ten
basileian sou] --The criminal's request is modest, as
befits a genuine penitent. Alfred Plummer (ICC 535)
quotes Augustine on the faith of the penitent criminal:
"The Jews despised as he was raising the dead; the thief
did not dispise as he was hanging beside him on a cross. "
Both of the criminals, one with bitter sarcasm, the other
with humble faith, ask Jesus to save them.
v. 43 [semeron] -- This is strong evidence that Jews
of Jesus' time expected some sort of continued existence
after death, not simply to await the general resurrection.
Luke does not know of Jesus' descent into hell.
3. STRATEGY: Luke 23: 35-43
The discussion of context suggests an over-all
strategy for approaching the text. The feast of Christ
the King calls for a different approach to the text from
that which would be appropriate for Holy Week. Here the
emphasis is on the crucifixion as an event in Christ's
life or in salvation history. Rather, the emphasis is on
the character of Christ's kingship and, in particular, on
the way God's power manifests itself, a way summed up in
the opening phrase of Proper 21 in th BOOK OF COMMON
PRAYER: "O God, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly
in showing mercy and pity."
4. REFERENCES: Luke 23: 35-43
Chadwick, Henry, ed. and tr. ORIGEN: CONTRA CELSUM.
Reprinted with corr., Cambridge: University Press, 1964.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE:
ANCHOR BIBLE Volumes 28 & 28A.
Moltmann, Jurgen. THE CRUCIFIED GOD: THE CROSS OF
CHRIST AS THE FOUNDATION AND CRITICISM OF
CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY. TR. R.A. Wilson and John Bowden,
New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Spence, Jonathan. THE MEMORY PALACE OF MATTEO RICCI.
New York: Viking Penguin, 1985.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Luke 23: 35-43
Hymns ought to connect the kingship of Christ
explicitly with the cross. Among those that do are "Hail,
thou once despised Jesus" (HYMNAL 1982, 495), "All praise
to thee, for thou, O king divine" (HYMNAL 1982 477), and
"Lord Christ, when first thou cam'st to earth" (HYMNAL
1982: 598, ELW 727); Others in ELW:
Gathering: Jesus Shall Reign - 434
Hymn of the Day: O Christ the Same - 760
Offertory: Come to the Table - 481
Communion: Soon and very soon - 439
Sending: Now Thank We All Our God – 839/840
Exegete: Joseph Trigg, PhD. Teaches at the Virginia Theological Seminary. His field is mainly Patristics in Church History. His publications include: ORIGEN (The Early Church Fathers, 1998),; “ Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesareaa”, Church History, 2007;and Biblical Interpretation, 1988; and “ Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine” (Review) Church H,istory, 2007.
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