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.”
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
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.
On this last Sunday of the Liturgical year, just before we head on into Advent, we consider Jesus as king, or the Reign of Christ.
Before we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we consider his death.
And so our gospel reading this morning is part of the crucifixion story.
And, perhaps, in this small part of the story that we read this morning, we get a snapshot of the kind of king Jesus was, and a glimpse into the Christ who reigns today.
And, by considering his death, we might be better prepared to welcome his birth.
As Luke tells it, Jesus is led out to the site of the crucifixion and crucified with two other criminals.
Such execution was not done quietly or privately but in company, in full view of others, with as much shame and scandal, as much public outrage and mockery as could be mustered or incited.
So, in Luke’s retelling of the crucifixion, who are the key characters?
Who are our eyes drawn to - and why?
Perhaps the first characters we’re drawn to are the two criminals suffering a similar fate on either side of Jesus.
One of them, we’re told mocks Jesus: Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.
That seems, to me, like a reasonable request.
By all accounts, Jesus, even as he was paraded through the streets on the way to the place of execution is recognised as the one on whom revolutionaries and activists had pinned their hopes. He was recognised as innocent of crime - except perhaps the most dangerous sort of crime - noising up those in authority, questioning the place and the status of those who lorded it over others.
So, even at the point of execution Jesus is recognised by the criminals on either side as a notorious agitator, one who was even thought to be the Messiah - that longed for figure who would rescue people from the throes of oppression.
So, it seems reasonable to me that one of the criminals should ask him - or taunt him - Save yourself and us!
If ever there was a moment to show your super power, this was it!
In contrast, the other criminal apparently treats Jesus with more respect. We’re told he rebukes his companion who is giving Jesus a hard time, he cites Jesus innocence as the reason they should be more respectful, and then he asks Jesus to remember him:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And, the astonishing thing is that Jesus assures him that that very day they will meet again in paradise.
So, in Luke’s account of the crucifixion, our eye is drawn to two criminals, facing the same fate, responding to death and to the person of Jesus so differently.
We might also be drawn to the leaders- and the soldiers who carried out the leaders orders.
Mocking Jesus, taunting him with the titles “King of the Jews”, “Messiah”, asking why he can’t save himself, offering him sour wine, dividing up his clothes.
These folk were part of the oppressive regime that simply trampled others underfoot and, literally, go away with murder.
People so used to riding roughshod over everyone, that it ceased to horrify them.
Soldiers and leaders who took their cues from those above them and played their part in a system rotten at its core.
A system that oppressed the poor and paved the way for the rich to get richer.
So there were the criminals either side of Jesus, there were the leaders and soldiers who made life miserable for any and all who got in their way.
And there was the crowd: And the people stood by, watching.
There are always the bystanders.
However many of these bystanders were not passive onlookers.
In this crowd, were those who, time after time, had been forced to watch countless acts of violence, been forced to look on as, time after time, justice was denied.
In this crowd, were many who bore witness to pain and cruelty.
There were mourners, there was family, there were Jewish officials, there were faithful women and men who showed up to witness yet another senseless act of death.
The faithful, who, it seems, could do little to change the course of events but who refused to turn away, refused to give in. The faithful who were committed to bear witness, committed to showing up.
And sometimes that is all we can do.
In the face of injustice.
In the face of evil.
When the mob rules and we cannot change the outcome.
Still we are called to show up.
And know that our showing up makes a difference.
It would be so easy today to resign ourselves to the suffering we see throughout the world, to the poverty, the homelessness, the violence we witness here on our own doorsteps. It would be easy to look away. To console ourselves with the promises of God that the Kingdom of God will be different. To lull ourselves into believing that better times are coming. And, in the meantime, we can wait it out.
God calls us to be better than that, to be more than that.
God’s call to us is to keep on showing up.
Because God’s kingdom is here.
And when we show up with all that we have alongside God, we bear witness, we hold out a light in the darkness, we hold out hope in the present and we make all the difference by simply showing up.
Our God reigns - not in some future, longed for paradise - but here and now.
And Christ the king calls us, the people of God today, to faithfulness, to showing up, to bearing witness and to living out God’s kingdom now.
As we approach Advent. As we prepare to welcome again, God born among us, let’s keep on showing up - for the glory of God.