When 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. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And 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!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Jesus is hanging from a cross. This is where we find him in today’s reading from Luke. Not exactly the place you would look for a king, but then again, nothing is ever quite as you expect with Jesus. Luke brings us to the place called “The Skull” and we find Jesus between two criminals.
One joins the soldiers and religious authorities and mocks him, the other intervenes and protests Jesus’ innocence. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Out of all things that could have been asked, he asked to simply be remembered and not forgotten, not to be saved or rescued, not to be relieved of pain, but simply to be remembered.
Jesus responds – some of the only spoken words of Jesus in the entire lectionary for this Sunday – by declaring that today, even now, he would enter with Jesus into Paradise. What kind of king is this? Welcoming criminals into his realm and promising relief and release amid terrible agony?
He is a king that is never quite as you expect him. He is a king who refuses to conform to the expectations of this world. A king who will not be governed by the world’s limited vision or its truncated sense of justice. This king meets us in our weakness. This king is willing to embrace all, forgive all, redeem all, because that is his true nature. He is a king that delights in ushering us into his kingdom while at the same time exhorting us to recognize and work to restore the kingdom already surrounding us. What king is this? He is our king.
* As we ask, “What kind of king is this?” consider: How does the answer to that question inform what kind of church we are?
* What does it mean to be marginalized in the light of this text? What does this text have to tell us about how we faithfully respond to those living in the margins?