20 November 2016Luke 23:33-43
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’” (v. 34)
Psalm: Psalm 46
Today marks the goal and climax of a long pilgrimage: the Church's journey through a complete liturgical year. Paradoxically (it would seem), on this occasion of celebration, we are confronted with the story of Jesus' crucifixion.
This is as it should be: Jesus' 'defeat' is our window into heaven. At the cross, uniquely, we discern the truth of God; God's heart is laid bare. The crucified Jesus is our God! The authority and glory of God, and God's largesse (God's kingship) are revealed for everyone, in every culture and generation, at the moment of Jesus' death, when he is vulnerable and helpless. This is central to our worship and discipleship. It requires us to follow Jesus as the servant of others (especially the most marginal and needy), with integrity, generosity and humility. We thereby share in God's mission of saving the world.
God's salvation is not a gift which focuses on oneself - getting out of a tight spot, escaping pain or being able to do good without any suffering involved. God's salvation frees us from self-concern and empowers us to reach out to people in desperate straits and help them towards life and freedom. God's limitless mercy and forgiveness embrace everyone without exception (verses 34, 43). Though it costs Jesus everything, he seeks the lost (see Luke 19:10). To the criminal who turns to him in faith, Jesus promises a life stronger than death! ('Paradise' was traditionally the Pleasure Garden of delight for the righteous dead: like the Garden of Eden, only more so.)
Another mark of salvation is the courage to challenge all who abuse power in the exercise of kingship or leadership in any group, community or nation. Notice the irony of the inscription on Jesus' cross (verse 38) and the mockery of the Roman soldiers prompted by it (verses 36-37); and recall the Jewish leaders screaming at Jesus because he does not conform to their vision of God's Messiah (Luke 23:18-23), who would surely liberate them from the political and military might of Roman rule. Against all that, look at Jesus as he hangs and suffers there, and see what true 'kingship' is all about.
- Jesus on the cross is the revelation of God's transforming grace; the signal of the cost to us of serving our neighbour; and the goal of all our longings for God. How are you helped to focus on these themes in the worship in your local church?
- When we look around us and ponder our world, wearing the 'lens' of Jesus crucified, we see first today's victims of persecution, torture and abuse. How in practice have you been helped to respond to them and their desperate plight?
- If there is no limit to God's love, how do we grow into such hospitable and generous people that we accept even our enemies? What helps you to overcome your fears, prejudices and jealousy?
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