Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” 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.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Reflection on the Gospel

Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.

The Church’s liturgical year closes by celebrating Christ the King. But today, only three of the world’s 196 nations are absolute monarchies. “Kingship” often raises the specter of subservience and oppression. But Jesus’ kingship directs us to a very different use of power and authority. Our Christian vocation is to emulate Christ’s exercise of power that heals individuals and nations, engaging the participation and dignity of all.

In vulnerable desperation, formerly fair-minded people readily resort to excessive assertions of their uniqueness or superiority, e.g. “whiteness,” “citizenship,” “truth.” They can become blinded to the fact that their domineering and oppressive actions contradict the very dignity they seek to achieve. That kind of devolution is real for many today. Commonly, a group of peers, who align with a particular party and its leader based on tribal, ethnic, nationalist or religious identifiers, claim utopian superiority over others.

The dangers of populism are anti democratic tendencies to extremes − nationalism, authoritarianism, fascism, and absolutism. Self-righteous populists consider themselves to be above the law, disrespecting the essential balance of power among the legislative, executive, judicial, media and civil powers. Often populists weaken parliaments, and control the judiciaries, the media, civil society, and academia. Such lack of civility and civic order is rooted in fear, lack of freedom, and knowledge. Catholic social teaching calls us to engaged participation for the common good.

Moreover, in Catholic moral theology, ignorance, passion, force, and fear are called “impediments” or blockages to living a Christian moral life. Ignorance means the simple absence of objective information; the inability to appreciate and act on the significance of particular pieces of information; or false opinions or prejudice, a sort of counterfeit knowledge, a misunderstanding that actively prevents the acquisition of accurate knowledge. Passion refers to the fact that out-of-control emotions block good moral judgment. Force refers to actual compulsion from outside the person (e.g. threat or bribery). These impediments can be overcome with additional effort.

We need not give in to our impediments. Instead we can act morally and justly, emboldened by Christ himself, who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1: 15). Today, Jesus our King invites us to measure our use of power against his–do we serve or manipulate others?; build a more just society or secure own interests?; cause pain to others or help to alleviate it? As we look forward to Advent, let us open ourselves to God’s power of love, mercy, compassion, and sense of justice, and then reach out to empower others.

Dawn M. Nothwehr, OSF
The Erica and Harry John Family Professor of Catholic Theological Ethics

Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever