In the Lectionary

November 20, Reign of Christ: Luke 23:33-43

In a presidential election year, Reign of Christ Sunday presents a striking contrast. The hubris of U.S. presidents, and of the candidates who aspire to the office, finds no place in the Passion texts that, in two years out of the lectionary’s three, serve as the centerpiece on this last Sunday of the church year. At Golgotha, Jesus offers a radically different vision of leadership than what we all too often see in the public realm.

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus is taunted by the soldiers (as agents of the empire) and the Pharisees (as religious leaders). They tell him to exercise the kind of political authority they know best. “Save yourself” is a challenge to act like a secular ruler or religious leader might be expected to act. Even one of the criminals at his side joins the chorus of humiliating invective, hoping against hope that Jesus will exhibit the same kind of power as those who put him on the cross.

Jesus refuses. The only power he exercises in Luke’s crucifixion account—forgiving sin and inviting the criminals beside him to embrace the hope of life in God’s reign—fully identifies him with the weak, rejected, and humiliated of the world. On the cross, he himself embodies that same weakness, rejection, and humiliation. Power at Golgotha is turned on its ear, finding expression in a confounding act of public vulnerability. If God chooses to be vulnerable in this way to us, how much more so should we humans be vulnerable in owning up to our shortcomings and weaknesses?