The Gospel of Luke presents two very contrasting images of Jesus, one as he begins his ministry, the other as it is ending. The first, is Jesus after his baptism in the Jordan and a time of struggle in the desert. Luke tells us: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…” (Lk.4:14). With that Spirit Jesus entered into the mission to which he has been called. Jesus describes the mission in the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “To bring good news to the poor,… liberation to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.” (Is.61:1)
Near the end of Luke’s gospel, we find the second image. It is very different, for the image is of the three crosses on Calvary (Luke 23:35-43). This is the scene of Jesus on the cross between two criminals who have been crucified with him. As contrasting as the images may appear, they are not unrelated. In fact, the two images actually express the same thing about Jesus.
Jesus began his mission filled with the Spirit of God. With that Spirit, he undertook to bring the message of God’s love and mercy for our world. In doing so, Jesus was proclaiming that the reign of God is near, it is among us. This is the message he gave to his disciples. Then, filled with the Spirit, they would go out with the same message and mission, a mission of love, mercy and peace. In word and action, Jesus revealed the healing love of God to all he encountered.
That same mission and message is present on Calvary. It is expressed as Jesus turns to one of those crucified with him. Acknowledging the openness of heart in the person, Jesus confirms that Spirit in him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus is reaching out to one of those on the cross with him, an outreach to another rejected one. In the scriptures, paradise is a place of beauty, life and peace. It recalls the garden of Eden at the very dawn of Creation presented in the Book of Genesis, a beautiful, place full of life and marked by peace and total harmony (Gen.2). It is the fulfillment of God’s reign among us.
A year ago, we started this liturgical year with Advent & Christmas. We heard the stories of the birth of the savior and the message that the reign of God is near and among us. Now with this Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that year ends and we see the savior on the cross. He accepts the sacrifice of himself for us all. As he does so, what shines through is the compassion, love and peace of God’s reign. In Luke’s account, its promise begins with Jesus’s companion on the cross.
Every Sunday as a Catholic community we gather to hear the stories of our faith and to share Eucharist at the Table of the Lord. Every year we hear the message and mission of Jesus unfolding in our stories. Our stories tell of God’s dream of building a reign not of power and domination, but of love and liberation, of justice, harmony and peace. In Eucharist we pray a great prayer of gratitude to our God who showers the blessings of the reign upon us in so many ways.
It seems the dream and the building of God’s reign of justice, mercy and love is still much unfinished. Our mission is to continue what Jesus has begun. As Pope Francis expressed it: “Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy” and as his disciples, we are the face of Jesus to our world and all its peoples. Pope Francis went on to say: “Mercy is the very foundation of our Church’s life…. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” Our mission is to live in hope and to be the face of this hope, making the reign of God, with its openness, compassion and love present to all around us. In this we build reign of peace.