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LAST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING (Cycle C)

Readings:
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-5
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Jesus Christ is the Promised Davidic King
The Church always celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King on the last Sunday before the beginning of the season of Advent. Today we end the Church's liturgical year by reflecting on the sacrifice of the promised Davidic Messiah, on the promised return of the Christ the King at the end of the age, and by celebrating His universal kingship. In the First Reading, we remember the kingship of Jesus' ancestor, David son of Jesse, the shepherd boy God told the prophet Samuel to anoint to one day become the shepherd His people Israel (1 Sam 16:1, 12-13). It was with David that God made an eternal covenant. God promised David that his throne would endure forever (2 Sam 7:16; 29; 23:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11/13), and it would be from one of his descendants that the promised the Redeemer-Messiah was to come to redeem Israel and all mankind (Is 11:1-5, 10-12; Ez 34:23-25; Jer 23:5-76; Mt 1:1). It was a promise fulfilled at the Incarnation in the angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary when he said: "Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:31-33). In our Second Reading, St. Paul defines Christ's mission by giving a summary about redemption by the Father through the "beloved Son" who is God's love revealed to mankind in human form. Christians share in the inheritance won for us by Christ. The imagery St. Paul uses recalls the Exodus liberation: we have been "delivered" and "transferred" and also Jesus' theme of the "kingdom" and our "redemption" and "forgiveness of sins" through belief in Christ Jesus (see Acts 2:38; Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7). St. Luke calls us to be witnesses to the crucifixion of the Savior in the Gospel Reading. In telling the story of that climax in human history, St. Luke shows that Jesus was completely in charge of His fate. With His full consent, Jesus entrusted the unfolding events of His sacrificial death into the Father's hands (Jn 10:17-18; Eph 5:2). He understood that His enemies were sinning in ignorance, and He showed mercy to them by praying for them from the Cross Through Christ our King, we receive a royal inheritance (Heb 9:15; 1 Pt 1:4). We become heirs of Jesus Christ when we are anointed at our Baptism. It is then that we become members of a royal family in Christ's Kingdom of the Church; and, as a royal people, we share in our King's crown. Most earthly kings wear jewel-encrusted crowns and sit on golden thrones, but our King wears a crown of thorns and His throne is the wood of the Cross. We are called to share in His Kingdom of justice, self-sacrifice, peace, and freedom. And the more we grow spiritually, the more we come to recognize the face of our royal ruler in the faces of the impoverished, the hungry, and the oppressed. It is because of the promise of our royal inheritance that we can sing as the redeemed people of God in today's psalm: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."

In the First Reading we remember the kingship of Jesus' ancestor, David of son of Jesse, the shepherd boy God told the prophet Samuel to anoint to one day become the shepherd His people Israel (1 Sam 16:1, 12-13).  It was also with David that God made an eternal covenant that his throne would endure forever (2 Sam 7:16; 29; 23:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11/13), and it would be from one of his descendants that the promised the Redeemer-Messiah was to come to redeem Israel and all mankind (Is 11:1-5, 10-12; Ez 34:23-25; Jer 23:5-76; Mt 1:1).  It was a promise fulfilled at the Incarnation in the angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary when he said: "Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:31-33).

In our Second Reading, St. Paul defines Christ's mission by giving a summary about redemption by the Father through the "beloved Son" who is God's love revealed to mankind in human form.  Christians share in the inheritance won for us by Christ.  The imagery St. Paul uses recalls the Exodus liberation: we have been "delivered" and "transferred" and also Jesus' theme of the "kingdom" and our "redemption" and "forgiveness of sins" through belief in Christ Jesus (see Acts 2:38; Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7).

And in the Gospel Reading, St. Luke calls us to be witnesses to the crucifixion of the Savior.  In telling the story of that climax in human history, St. Luke shows that Jesus was completely in charge of His fate.  With His full consent, Jesus entrusted the unfolding events of His sacrificial death into the Father's hands (Jn 10:17-18; Eph 5:2).  He understood that His enemies were sinning in ignorance, and He showed mercy to them by praying for them from the Cross

Through Christ our King we receive a royal inheritance (Heb 9:15; 1 Pt 1:4).  We become heirs of Jesus Christ when we are anointed at our Baptism.  It is then that we become members of a royal family in Christ's Kingdom of the Church, and as a royal people we share in our King's crown.  Most earthly kings wear jewel encrusted crowns and sit on golden thrones, but our King is crowned with thorns and His throne is the wood of the Cross.  We are called to share in His Kingdom of justice, self-sacrifice, peace, and freedom.  And the more we grow spiritually, the more we come to recognize the face of our royal ruler in the faces of the impoverished, the hungry, and the oppressed.  It is because of the promise of our royal inheritance that we can sing as the redeemed people of God in today's psalm: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."

The First Reading 2 Samuel 5:1-3 ~ The Shepherd-King of Israel
1 In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said: "Here we are, your bone and your flesh.  2 In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.  And the LORD said to you, 'You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.'"  3 When all the elder of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD, and they anointed him king of Israel.

God chose David to rule over His people when David was still a boy tending his father's sheep and sent the prophet Samuel to anoint him (1 Sam 16:1, 10-13).  Later as a young man, David fought in the army of Israel's King Saul and became a mighty warrior who was loved and respected by the people.  After Saul's death, David's tribe of Judah made him king over them, but it wasn't until seven years later, after the death of Saul's son, that the other tribes came to David and asked him to be their king.  At that time, David was thirty years old (2 Sam 5:4).  When the tribes said to David "Here we are, your bone and your flesh" they were acknowledging their kinship link with him and God's command that only an Israelite chosen by God could be kings over the covenant people (Dt 17:15).

2 Samuel 5:2 ~ "In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.   And the LORD said to you, 'You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.'" 
The tribal elders state that Saul was their king, but it was David who had God's blessing to lead the people.  The phrase the elders used to describe David's leadership is that he "led the Israelites out and brought them back;" it is the same phrase used by Moses in the Hebrew text of Numbers 27:17 when he petitioned God to set a man to act as leader in all things for the Lord's community.  In that passage, Moses' request for a leader, he asked God to appoint a man:

  1. ...to be at their head in all their undertakings, a man who will lead them out and bring them in(NJB)
  2. so that Yahweh's community will not be like sheep without a shepherd ... (NJB).

In that verse, we have the definition of the ideal Mosaic leader that foreshadows David, the future shepherd king of Israel in 2 Samuel 5:2-4 (literal translation reads "led Israel out and in" (IBHE, vol. I, page 428).  But it is also the Mosaic model fulfilled in the Messiah, David's heir who is Jesus of Nazareth.

  1. David, the Shepherd of Israel is the Mosaic model of a leader:
    • In 2 Samuel 5:2-4 [NAB] the passage referring to David reads: In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back [led the Israelites out and in].  And the LORD [Yahweh] said to you, 'You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel' (NJB). This passage repeats the Shepherd of Israel imagery and repeats the "out and in" phrase from Numbers 27:17 (the same is repeated in 1 Chr 11:2).
    • In 1 Kings 22:17 God expressed His displeasure in the kings of Israel and David's descendants, the kings of Judah, through the prophet Micaiah: I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains like sheep without a shepherd. 
  2. The promised Messiah is the model of the Mosaic leader who is the ideal Davidic king:
    • In Ezekiel 34:5-24 Yahweh speaking through His prophet says: For lack of a shepherd they have been scattered, to become the prey of all the wild animals; they have been scattered ... then He promises that He will take care of His flock. He shall gather them back from across the earth where they have been scattered by raising up "one shepherd, my servant David" who will have charge of God's people to be their Shepherd (verse 23), and God will judge between the sheep and goats (verse 17).
  3. Jesus of Nazareth is the model of the Mosaic leader and ideal Davidic king:
    • In the Good Shepherd Discourse in John chapter 10, Jesus identifies Himself as the "Good Shepherd" of God's people (10:11), who guards the gate to let His flock go "out and come in" (10:9).
    • In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the people He has the power to judge God's people and to separate the sheep from the goats (see the same prophecy for the Messiah in Ez 34:23-24).

Jesus Christ is David's heir.  He began His earthly mission to declare His kingdom when He was thirty years old, the same age His ancestor David became king of Israel (Lk 3:23; 2 Sam 5:4).  It is Jesus who fulfills the royal grant covenant God made with David that his throne will endure forever.  The Kingdom over which Jesus Christ rules is the Church on earth and the Church of the Saints in Heaven. It is through the New Covenant that Jesus, Son of David and Son of God has made us one "flesh" in kinship with Him through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist!  We celebrate and renew our covenant in Christ in every Eucharist, giving thanks for our redemption and looking forward to the day when we will be with Him in Paradise.

Responsorial Psalm 122:1-5 ~ Making the Pilgrimage to the Holy City
The response is: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."

I rejoice because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the LORD."  2 And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Response:
3 Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity.  4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD.
Respnse:
According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.  5 In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.
Response:

Jerusalem was city built upon the mountain ridges of central Israel and at its highest elevation was about 2,500 feet above sea-level.  Therefore, going to Jerusalem was always said to be "going up."  The psalmist is a pilgrim making the journey "up" to the holy city and the Temple of Yahweh and has joyfully reached his goal as he enters the gates of the city with his traveling companions.  The city impresses the pilgrim with its strength and unity with the Temple of God at its center (verse 3).  This is the third of the pilgrimage psalms or "Songs of Ascent" (Psalms 120-134).  Reaching his destination, the psalmist acclaims the holy city of God from which King David ruled with justice (verses 3-5).

Jesus also made pilgrimages to Jerusalem (see for example Mt 20:17-18; Mk 10:32-33; Lk 13:22; 18:31; Jn 2:13, 23; 4:45; 5:1; 10:22; 11:55).  In His teaching there He brought the message of peace and justice (Lk 19:42), making this psalm His own.  But the Jerusalem of His time chose to reject Him and His message, just as many in the current age choose to reject the Gospel of salvation through Christ Jesus.  The true Jerusalem that does acknowledge Him is the Church.  It is the Church that guides us on our pilgrim journey through this life as we strive to reach our goal to pass through the gates of Heaven to enter the heavenly Jerusalem.  It is at the end of time when Christ the King will return that the new Jerusalem of the Church will be seen coming down from the heights of Heaven in splendor as is described in symbolic language in St. John's vision in Revelation 21:9-27.

Applying this psalm to the Church and the pilgrim to Christians on the path to salvation, St. Augustine preached to his congregation: "This solid city is the Church.  Christ is the cement that binds it together.  On earth, when the cement is poured, the walls are built up and the weight of the wall presses down to where the foundation has been laid.  But if our foundation, Christ, is in heaven, then let us build up to heaven.  In the basilica you see before you, in which we are gathered together today, the architects spread the cement to build from the ground up; but when we are remade as a spiritual temple, the cement is poured upon us from on high.  Let us make haste, then, to that place; let us run on until our feet are walking in your shadows, Jerusalem" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 121.4).

The Second Reading Colossians 1:12-20 ~ The Royal Primacy of Christ
12 Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.  13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.  17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 He is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.  19 For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, 20 making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

In St. Paul's letter to the Christians of Colossus he defines Christ.  Verses 12-14 are a summary about redemption by the Father and precedes the statement in verses 15-20 in which he writes about the "beloved Son" who is God's love revealed to mankind in human form (verse 13).  Christians share the inheritance won for us by Christ in light with the holy ones (verse 12) probably referring to angels.  The imagery St. Paul uses recalls the Exodus liberation: we have been "delivered" and "transferred" and Jesus' theme of the "kingdom," and our "redemption" and "forgiveness of sins" through belief in Christ (see Acts 2:38; Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7).

Most Bible scholars believe that verses 15-20 are an early Christian hymn that was familiar to the Colossians and was perhaps used in their liturgy.  The verses present Jesus as the mediator of creation (verses 15-18a) and of redemption (18b-20).  Verse 15 states that He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  Man and woman were originally created "in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). But Christ is the very image of the invisible God now shares this new "reborn" nature with His disciples in the Sacrament of Christian baptism (see 2 Cor 4:4; Jn 1:3, 10-11; Jn 3:3, 5).

The title "firstborn" in this verse does not suggest that Jesus was created.   Instead, the title refers to his rank and status as God's divine Son.  Notice there is a parallelism between "firstborn of all creation" in verse 15 and "firstborn from the dead" in verse 18.  The first acknowledges that Jesus ranks above all creation and created life.  The second acknowledges He is the first of the Resurrected dead in what becomes the great harvest of souls into heaven and the promise of our bodily resurrection, like His, at the end of time.

Verses 16-17 proclaim Jesus' preeminent and supreme role as God's agent in the creation of all things "visible and invisible" in the material and spiritual realms.   In fact, everything is created through Him, and He holds the universe together (verse 17).  These verses establish the preexistence of Christ before the Incarnation.

18 He is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
When Christ was raised from the dead, as the "firstborn from the dead" he was placed over the community of the Church that he brought into existence. However He is also the "head of the body" of the Church which is united to Him as part of His divine Body and from which He cannot be separated.

19 For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, 20 making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
In Jesus Christ is all the fullness of divine grace through which He makes peace between God and humanity through His precious blood shed for the forgiveness of sins on the altar of the Cross. It is through the merits of Jesusí perfect sacrifice that everyone who calls on His name can be forgiven the penalty of sin and restored to fellowship with God the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. This grace is extended to the faithful of the Church on earth through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and has been already received by the faithful of the Church who are saints in Heaven.

The Gospel of Luke 23:35-43 ~ The Crucifixion
35 They divided his garments by casting lots.  The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God."  36 Even the soldiers jeered at him.  As they approached to offer him wine 37 they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."  38 Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews."  39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."  40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man had done nothing criminal."  42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

It was the morning of Nisan the 15th, and the beginning of the morning liturgical service of the Tamid sacrifice and the required Sacred Assembly (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8).  St. Mark is the only Gospel writer who records the time Jesus was placed on the Cross: It was the third hour [9 AM] when they crucified him (Mk 15:25).  According to St. Mark, Jesus was crucified in Jewish time at the third hour, 9 AM (Mk 15:25) before darkness engulfed the land at noon, the sixth hour Jewish time (Mk 15:33; Mt 27:45; Lk 23:44).  The "third hour" Jewish time was also when the first Tamid lamb was sacrificed in the Temple and its blood splashed against the sacrificial altar as the Levites blew the silver trumpets, and the Temple doors opened for the morning worship service (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, page 108).  That morning was a compulsory Sacred Assembly, and all religious Jews would be in attendance at the Temple, this includes the majority of Jesus' supporters who had no idea concerning the events unfolding at Golgotha (Lev 23:6-8; Num 28:23-25).  Hanging Jesus from the Cross was exactly what the chief priests wanted to discredit Jesus with the people; only a man "cursed by God" would be hung on a tree (Dt 21:22-23).  However they wanted to accomplish this without a riot from Jesus' supporters so they chose a time when most of the Jerusalem residents and pilgrims who had come to the seven day pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread were worshiping in the Temple.

Jesus' enemies were unknowingly fulfilling God's promise to Abraham (see Gen 22:15-18; Gal 3:13, 29).  They were not defeating Jesus' Gospel; it was all part of God's divine plan and the means by which God's promise of a world-wide blessing was going to be extended to all mankind.  St. Paul wrote: Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree," that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13-14).

34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
St. Luke continues to show that Jesus is completely in charge of His fate.  With His full consent, Jesus entrusts the unfolding events of His sacrificial death into the Father's hands (Jn 10:17-18; Eph 5:2).  He understands that His enemies are sinning in ignorance, and He shows mercy to them by praying for them from the Cross (1 Pt 2:23).  His statement recalls Isaiah 53:12 and is the same view of His death that is repeated by St. Peter in Acts 3:17; 13:27, and by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:8.  In his martyrdom, St. Stephen will follow Jesus' example (Acts 7:60), and it is reported that in his martyrdom St. James of Jerusalem spoke the same words of forgiveness before he died (Eusebius, Church History, II.23.16).  St. Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-25 will teach that all Christians should follow the same spirit of forgiveness. 

Verese 34a is the first of seven statements Jesus will make from the altar of the Cross.  Two of His statements are quotations from the Psalms of David.

Jesus' Last Seven Statements from the Cross
Statement Scripture
1. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Lk 23:34
2. "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Lk 23:42
3. "Woman, behold, your son"... "Behold, your mother." Jn 19:26-27
4. "Eli, Eli lema sabachthani," "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ~ Hebrew

"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani," "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" ~ Aramaic*
Mt 27:46 (*Ps 22:1a quoted in Hebrew)

Mk 15:34 (Jesus quoted from Ps 22:1/2a in Aramaic)
5. "I thirst." Jn 19:28
6. "It is fulfilled."+ Jn 19:30
7. "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit."+ Lk 23:46 (Ps 31:5/6 quoted)
Michal E. Hunt © copyright 2012

*Jesus has alluded to Psalms 22 in Mt 27:35, 39 and 43.  Matthew records the Hebrew as it would have been written in the Hebrew scroll of Psalms 22, while Mark records Jesus' actual Aramaic statement.
+It is hard to know which of these two statements are His last words from the Cross.

334b They divided his garments by casting lots.
Psalms 22, written by Jesus' ancestor King David in the 10th century BC, is a description of David's sufferings, but the psalm is also a graphic description and prediction of Jesus' crucifixion long before the Persians ever invented crucifixion as a form of capital punishment.  Included in the psalms is the prediction that lots would be cast for Jesus' garments, an event that was not part of David's history.  In verses 17-19 David wrote: Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.  So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones.  They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.

It was the custom for the soldiers overseeing executions to divide the possession of the condemned.  Matthew also records that the Roman soldiers "kept watch" over Him (Mt 27:36).  Posting aguard was a customary measure in order to prevent any attempt to rescue the condemned men.  The Roman soldiers divided Jesus' four garments, and they cast lots for the expensive seamless tunic.  In doing this they were fulfilling the prophecy in Psalms 22:19.  Jesus' seamless tunic was theologically symbolic of the seamless tunics only worn by the priests serving God in the Temple.  As such, the garment is a symbol of Jesus' high priesthood.  After His Ascension to the Father, Jesus took His place as High Priest and King of the Heavenly Sanctuary (Heb 8:1-2).  The fact that Jesus wore the seamless garment during the Last Supper and at the crucifixion elevates those events to liturgical sacrifices, since the seamless priestly tunic was to only be worn when offering service to Yahweh (Ez 42:14).

The High Priest dressed in his priestly robes was the symbol of man fully restored in God's image.  Jesus is not only our King but also our High Priest, offering the pure and holy sacrifice of Himself to God the Father (Rev 5:6).  In Exodus 28:4, Leviticus 16:4 and 21:10, the word chiton in the Greek translation and in Hebrew ketonet is used to refer to the priestly tunic.  The priestly robe is described it as "a woven piece" in Exodus 28:32.  The word seamless (Hebrew = arraphos) is not found in the Greek (Septuagint) translation, but Flavius Josephus describes the ankle-length tunic of the high priest as one seamless woven cloth: Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the soldiers and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck [..]; it was also parted where the hands were to come out (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.7.4 [161]; also see The Jewish Wars, 5.5.7 [231]).

Jesus wearing a seamless garment during the Last Supper and at His crucifixion elevates those events to liturgical sacrifices since the seamless priestly tunic was only to be worn when offering service to Yahweh (Ez 42:14). Jesus wearing a priestly garment at the Last Supper implies that it was a liturgical worship service at which Jesus officiated as the New Covenant High Priest of the sacred meal. That He wore this garment at His crucifixion implies that Jesus was acting as the New Covenant High Priest officiating at the offering of His sacrifice on the altar of the Cross for the atonement sanctification of all people. See Ex 28:4; Lev 16:4; Ez 42:14; Heb 2:17; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1-3; 9:11, 25.

35The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God."  36 Even the soldiers jeered at him.  As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."
Written centuries earlier, Davidic Psalms 22 describes these same repugnant actions that were committed by Jesus' tormentors.  In verses 8-9 David wrote: All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me.  "You relied on the LORD—let him deliver you if he loves you, let him rescue you." Psalms 22 vividly describes Jesus' suffering and the tormenting posture of the crowd.

The scene of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels and the enmity toward Jesus by the chief priests, Pharisees and elders also recall the condemnation of the righteous by the wicked described in Wisdom 2:12-24.  Also see Mt 27:39-43; Mk 15:29-32.  They called out to Him:

  1. "Save yourself if you are the Son of God/the Messiah and come down from the cross."
  2. "He saved others; he cannot save himself."
  3. "Come down from the cross and we will believe."
  4. "He trusted in God let him deliver him."
  5. "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."

The prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 is fulfilled in Jesus' Passion: Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.  And as St. Peter wrote: When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body upon the Cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pt 2:23-24).

In three verses the people in the crowd challenged Jesus to prove His divinity by saving himself:

  1. Verse 35: The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God."
  2. Verse 37: ... they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." 
  3. Verse 39: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." 

36b As they approached to offer him wine ...
The other Gospels include the information that the Roman soldiers tried to give Jesus wine mixed with myrrh that was prepared to dull the prisoner's pain (Mk 15:23).  1st AD century historian/Jewish priest Flavius Josephus confirmed the historicity of the Gospel account. He wrote that wealthy women of Jerusalem provided wine mixed with narcotics for those destined for crucifixion. Jesus will drink more cheap wine to drink just before He surrenders His life (Mt 27:48; Jn 19:28-30).

Jesus only tastes the wine but does not drink it.  He has sworn at the Last Supper that He will not drink the fruit of the vine until He comes into His kingdom (see Mt 26:29 and Lk 22:18).  The small taste of the wine may be to further connect Jesus' perfect sacrifice to the sacrifice of the morning Tamid unblemished male lamb at the Temple that was given a drink prior to sacrifice (Mishnah: Tamid, 3.4).  The Tamid was a sacrifice that had for centuries prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus as the true Tamid "standing" (as in continual or perpetual) Lamb of God, as St. John the Baptist identified Jesus in John 1:29 and 36.  St. John could not have been referring to the Passover victim which could be either a lamb or a goat kid and was multiple sacrifices made once a year.  The Tamid lamb was a single sacrifice offered twice daily for the atonement and sanctification of God's covenant people, signifying Jesus' humanity and His divinity.

38 Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." 
The plaque above the head of a condemned criminal stating his crime was a common practice.  In the Gospel of John 19:20, Pilate had "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek on a plaque, and it could be easily read by the crowds.  It was a common Roman practice to post the crime for which a person was being executed and the name of the condemned man.  Such a plaque was called in Greek a titulus.  Pilate himself ordered the wording of the sign, much to the displeasure of the chief priests.

Luke 23:39-43 ~ Jesus' exchange with the criminals who were crucified with Him:
39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."  40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man had done nothing criminal."  42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  43 He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified between two criminals (also see Mk 15:27; Lk 23:33; Jn 19:18), but St. Luke is the only Gospel writer to include the story of the penitent criminal.  Jesus is situated between two men on an elevation with His arms outstretched on the Cross, commanding the climactic battle between good and evil.  The scene is reminiscent of Moses standing on a hill with outstretched arms between Aaron and Hur in the Israelite's battle with the wicked Amalekites (Ex 17:8-13; CCC 440).  However, unlike the temporal consequences of Moses' battle, the outcome of Jesus' battle had cosmic and eternal implications.

Jesus said to the criminal on His right: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  Why did Jesus promise salvation to one of the criminals?  It was because his act of righteousness in defending Jesus, his penance in acknowledging his sins, and his profession of faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah and Davidic king has won him Jesus' promise of eternal salvation.  This is Jesus' second statement from the altar of the Cross.  According to the ancient non-canonical document entitled "The Gospel of Nicodemus," the name of the criminal on the right was Dismas and the criminal on the left was Gestas.  We cannot confirm that these were their real names and may have only been the names given them for the sake of the story.

The question for each of us is will our names be remembered in the heavenly "Book of Life" that lists those humble and penitent souls who are destined for salvation (Ex 32:32-33; Ps 69:28; Dan 7:10; 12:1; Mal 3:16-18; Rev 20:12-14; 21:27)?  We all have the same opportunity as the good thief to confess our sins to Christ and to acknowledge Him as our sovereign Lord and King.  If we do, we can be assured that one day we will also hear Him say to us: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Catechism References:
Colossians 1:12-14 (CCC 517, 1250); 1:14 (CCC 2839), 1:15-20 (CCC 2641); 1:15 (CCC 241, 299, 381, 1701). 1:16-17 (CCC 331, 291); 1:18-20 (CCC 2643); 1:18 (CCC 504, 658, 753, 792)
Luke 23:35-43 (CCC 440, 2616), 23:40-43 (CCC 2266), 23:43 (CCC 1021)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013