A story is told about some divers who discovered a 400 year-old sunken ship off the coast of Northern Ireland.
Among the treasures they found on the ship was a man’s wedding ring. When the divers cleaned it up, they noticed that it had an inscription on it. Etched on the wide band was a hand holding a heart. And under the etching were these words: “I have nothing more to give you.”
Of all the treasures found on that sunken ship, that ring and its beautiful inscription was what particularly touched the divers.
This story is often used when giving a wedding homily. But the inscription – “I have nothing more to give you” – could have been also placed on the cross of Jesus. Instead of the inscription, “Jesus, King of the Jews,” “I have nothing more to give” could have been a better inscription.
For on the cross, Jesus gave us everything he had. He gave us his life and his love. He gave us all that one person can possibly give to another. “No one greater love than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the kind of King we have – offering everything that he had for the love of us.
The Solemnity of Christ the King is not an easy celebration. The title Christ the King has connotations of power, prestige, wealth and pomp and these values do not reflect the life and mission of Jesus. Although Jesus, in the gospels, makes it clear that his kingdom is not an earthly kingdom or of this world, the symbols that we often use and the ways we celebrate this solemnity often manifest earthly and political kingdom. When we picture Christ the King, we usually use earthly paraphernalia: a golden crown, a gilded throne, an expensive royal robe. But Christ’s Kingdom is not an earthly or political kingdom; it is a kingdom of love, peace, justice, humility and reconciliation.
The imaging Jesus Christ as King is made even more difficult by the recent Typhoon Yolanda and the untold devastations that it has brought to lives and properties. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, of heaven and earth, why did he allow such suffering to visit millions of people in the south? How can Jesus, the King of kings, seem to be powerless in the face of natural calamities? How can we accept a King who seems to be powerless in the face of different forms of evil in the society and in the world?
To even compound the matter, the Christ the King that is presented in the gospel for this year’s solemnity is the Crucified King. The Jesuit priest Fr. Mark Link, in describing this kind of king, says: “He is a king who hangs from a dirty cross instead of sitting on a gilded throne. He is not like a king who did not come to be served but to serve and to lay down His life as a ransom for all. This is our king who gave up all He has and became obedient to death, even to death on a cross (Phil. 2). He is the model of all rulers and leaders both in the Church and in society as a whole. How different our world and Church would be if our leaders were to learn to look at Him and copy his example.”
In the gospel passage today, it is precisely on the cross and in the face of the threefold mockery by the people of the Crucified King, that Jesus showed God’s saving power. The Jewish leaders taunted Jesus: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one.” The soldiers retorted, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Finally, one the criminals crucified with Jesus exclaimed, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.” Luke has shown us, by way of an irony, that it was the enemies of Jesus themselves who confessed the saving event of his dying on the cross.
In the dialogue between Jesus and the other criminal crucified with Jesus, Jesus’ innocence is first established. The criminal said, “We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Secondly, the dialogue highlights the saving effects of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ innocent dying on the cross had an effect of converting the criminal. And in the criminal’s request, “Remember me, when you enter upon your reign,” there is recognition of Jesus’s kingship that goes beyond this life and that has authority to grant eternal pardon and mercy.
On that very day, Jesus promised the repentant criminal “paradise.” In the literature of Judaism, paradise meant the realm reserved for the righteous dead. In the New Testament literature paradise referred to the realm of bliss in heaven, which was thought to have began with the inauguration of the messianic age by Jesus.
According to Luke, Jesus’s making a promise to the repentant criminal clearly shows that everything said of him was in fact true. Jesus can save. He is the Messiah. He is the chosen one and king of glory who can forgive sins, has conquered death and can grant entrance into eternal joy of paradise.
But this Jesus Christ the King is the Messiah who saves others by not saving himself. He is one who is resolutely committed to God’s will, which includes betrayal and death in the hands of men. Only in the shameful powerlessness of the cross can Jesus demonstrate that authority that ultimately saves, forgives and rehabilitates. It is on the cross that Jesus defines what sort of King he really us. The true king is one who gives his all until there is nothing more to give. The true king is one who suffers not only for us but also with us and in us.
Last Sunday, I said in my homily that what happened in the south was not God’s will, that it was more the historical results of man’s decisions and behaviors detrimental to the environment resulting to climate change plus nature’s imperfect and mysterious ways and designs. I also said that the image of Jesus I had in the face of the thousands of deaths and devastations in the south was that of a weeping Jesus. Jesus, out of love, wept over the death of his friend Lazarus and over the impending destruction of Jerusalem. In the same way, out of his love for the suffering, Jesus the Crucified King must have been weeping over the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the south affected by the typhoon.
Can God really suffer and does God suffer when people suffer? Myron J. Taylor, following the insights of Jurgen Moltmann and Dierrich Bonhoeffer, says that because God cares—because God loves—He suffers… If God loves, then God suffers. To love is to be vulnerable—to be vulnerable means to be open to the hurts and risks that come with freedom.”
There was an old Scotsman who lost two sons in The First World and his heart was so broken that he quit going to church. He felt God had let him down. The minister of his town came by to visit and ask him why he was not in worship anymore. The old man said, “Where was God when my sons died?” The minister paused briefly, then looked up and kindly said, “Right where he was on the day his Son died, right down in the middle of it all.”
Where was God when typhoon Yolanda was hitting Tacloban and other affected places? Where is God in the aftermath of the typhoon? We must say by faith and on the basis of the Crucified Jesus: God has been right there in midst of it all – dying again with his people, suffering and suffering with his suffering people.
The theologian Jurgen Moltmann, in his powerful book The Crucified God, said: “When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father… He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge, nine months before his execution: “Only the suffering God can help.”
We have been witnessing, seeing and hearing stories of resilience, faith, solidarity and charity in the midst of great suffering brought about by the Typhoon. In all these, we experience a God who does not only suffer and suffer with and for us. We also experience God as light, consolation and hope.
One very touching picture I have seen coming from the south, from an evacuation center in Tacloban, is a picture of a little boy carrying a smaller boy with great difficulty. The two boys are not brothers. The older boy was protecting the younger boy for fear that he might get lost in the sea of thousands of people falling in line for relief goods. The younger boy must have been separated from his parents and family or, perhaps, he is the only surviving member of his family now. The older boy needed relief goods, but he could not just think of himself. He was also thinking of the welfare of the younger boy, perhaps even above his own needs. I dare to say the God’s goodness was reflected by the goodness of this boy in solidary with another suffering boy.
Again, Jurgen Moltmann says, “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.”
In April 1865, the slain body of President Abraham Lincoln lay in state for a few hours in Cleveland, Ohio. It was on its final journey from the nation’s capital to Springfield, Illinois.
In the long line of people filing by the body was a poor black woman and her little son. When the two reached the president’s body, the woman lifted up her little son and said in a hushed voice:
“Honey, take a long, long look. That man died for you.”
What that black mother said to her child can be said about Jesus by every mother of her child.
Pointing to the Body of Jesus on the crucifix, she can say: “Honey, take a long, long look. That man died for you.”