Christ the King Sunday
One of my favorite stories as a child was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exuprey. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick it up. It’s a small book about an aviator whose plane has difficulty in the desert and he is forced to stop to repair. In this strange time, he meets a little boy who is a prince. A prince from outer space.
The book begins with this story:
Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing. In the book, it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."
I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked something like this:
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.
But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of a boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:
The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
When I look at the picture painted for us today in Luke’s Gospel there are times when I get that feeling of reading the Little Prince all over again. When I look at it from one perspective it seems like nothing more than the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted upon an innocent man. It looks like failure. It looks like loss. It looks like the end.
I’m sure that is the view the soldiers had that day. They saw a defeated man, whom they could treat mercilessly. I’m not sure that they really saw a man at all. In order to commit such acts of violence against another you must stop seeing them as human, as equal, as real.
When those who placed Jesus upon that cross, whether by their hands or by their voices and commands, viewed the scene they saw the end. The end of people fighting against them. The end of their fear of losing power. The end of uprisings and rabble rousers. If they could put down the seeds of rebellion fast enough, harshly enough, then it would not rear its ugly head again.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees watched the crucifixion, they saw the end. The end of people questioning the status quo. The end of people daring to speak up. The end of someone threatening their power, their place, their prestige.
And while a sign hung above his head that said “This is the King of the Jews”, they did not see him as king.
When the followers of Jesus watched this crucifixion, with tear filled eyes and grief filled hearts. They too thought it was the end. The end of the life they had begun to finally live. The end of their hoped-for rebellion. The end of their dreams.
But a shift in perspective, from the crowd below to the thief next to Jesus tells a different story. This man sees something that the others cannot see. He has a hope that the others dare not dream. He looks at Jesus, dying the same death as Jesus, only his is deserved per his own words, and what does he see?
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Your kingdom. He sees the King of Glory, Prince of Peace, King of Kings. And with all the strength he can muster, which would not have been much, he asks to be remembered by Jesus.
Jesus, the name means “The Lord Saves” or “He saves.” The crucified thief says Savior, remember me. He sees not the end, but the beginning.
The thief sees this moment as a moment of the ushering in of God’s kingdom. He’s not sure exactly what it will hold, but he knows there will be something, for he asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus tells him something even better than a yes. He says “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is the beginning, not the end that everyone has seen up to this point. It is the beginning, of new life, and that life abundant!
It is the beginning of a new way, one ushered in through the death of an innocent man.
Today, in Luke’s Gospel is used as the moment when God’s salvation breaks through. In Luke 4:21 Jesus says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In Luke 19 Jesus tells Zacchaeus “I am going to your house Today” indicating that he is bringing salvation to Zacchaeus’ house.
Today, the Kingdom of God breaks into our ordinary lives.
Today, Jesus calls to us welcoming us to his kingdom.
Today, Jesus offers us his presence, to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
What so many have seen as the end, is really the beginning
A twist in perspective, a turn of the lens, a change in the way we look at things, looking through new eyes as new creations, we see this unexpected, unequaled King Jesus.
Friends, let us not be content to look at the picture before us and see what the world sees.
When the piolet in The Little Prince shows his work to fellow adults they always say “it is a hat.” Then he knows he cannot talk with them about the things of his imagination. When the little prince first sees it he knows instantly what it is and asks him to draw a sheep. They see things from the same perspective.
When we see the picture painted by this passage in Luke, let us see it not as the end, but as the beginning. We know that this moment ushered in new life. We see, not a defeated man, but a king, the King of Glory.
May we celebrate that fact; may we see salvation where the world sees suffering. May we see hope where the world sees death. May we know that this is not the end, but the beginning of the Reign of Christ the King!