Gospel Luke 23:35-43
The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.
‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself’
Way back, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was posed a very similar question. It came at the end of his time in the desert after his Baptism. Not so much a question as a temptation. The devil had known that Jesus was now fully aware of the power that he held as God and Man. He may have considered that forty days in the desert would leave the human Jesus failing in strength, realising his weaknesses – and thought that this was an opportunity to suggest that Jesus uses his Divinity to his own end; that this was an opportunity to divert Jesus from the path his Father has chosen. And, after all, the Father has never been human; has never been hungry, couldn't know what it was really like to be one of us.
But Jesus was a strong, young man then; full of life; full of mission; full of the confidence that his Father and the Holy Spirit had blessed him with. Full with the belief that he could do this without rejecting either his humanity or his divinity. Confidence, Faith and Hope all sent the devil packing….then.
But now he’s back. And the circumstances must balance far more in his favour. He hides in humanity; in the weakness that sees us grabbing at straws to save ourselves; without accepting or realising that it can never be us that saves us.
Does the first criminal truly know Jesus? He throws the claim but does he believe? It may seem ridiculous; but for some, it is easier to believe in magic than to believe in mercy.
To the first thief; Jesus may be no more than a charismatic prophet; a rebel leader. But there may be plans- friends conspiring to save the day and if so, why shouldn’t he be included? If Jesus can do this for himself, shouldn't he do it for everyone?
And how easy would it be, this time, to accept the challenge?
With the Mission behind him; abandoned by friends; rejected by the people he had come to save. His body stripped of all the strength and dignity of manhood; as his humanity withers away and the Father and Holy Spirit keep silent - the devil must have been rubbing his hands in glee.
If you are the Christ; you can save yourself.
Jesus is the Christ – but he can’t save himself - this is the relationship of Trinity –- mercy will have to come through the Holy Spirit and from the Father. Jesus, the Christ, must give himself up and put himself into their hands.
The sign says - This is the King of the Jews - a strange kind of king then that surrenders to the will of others. A king that places himself, not in authority but in solidarity with his people; with the lowest and most desperate of his people. Even knowing that a word, a gesture, could make this all go away; he chooses not to; he chooses to remain faithful to his humanity. After all if, at the end, he simply swept all this away then what was the point? Was it just a game- God playing Man?
Jesus proves his power by being powerless; his submission takes him out of the hands of those who jeer and tempt him leaving him in God's hands.
When the other criminal speaks up; he recognises this. He knows himself; he has accepted who he is; sees some sort of justice; knows that he now has no power over his future.
In his acceptance, he sees that there is a difference - Jesus is being sacrificed and is accepting that this needs to be done; is making himself the sacrifice. There is something bigger here; there is something more; there is a strength and a faith that even at the end; even for a few moments the man wants to be a part of.
‘Take me with you.’
And Jesus does; Christ, the king who will not save himself, will save this man.