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This Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church’s year, is always dedicated to “Jesus Christ, Universal King.” The coming of God’s Kingdom had been a central theme in Jesus’ preaching. The very first words he proclaims as he begins his ministry are: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:13). Jesus visited village after village “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). He began many parables with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and spoke frequently regarding who would enter that kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46). While we look forward to the fullness of living in that kingdom, we are already members and the kingdom of God is already among us (Luke 17:21).
It is very possible that the criminal, who made his famous appeal to Jesus in our gospel today- “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom ” – had heard him preach or, at least, was familiar with the preaching. He may have sensed the truth of Jesus’ message, even felt a hunger for the peace it could bring him, but found himself too entangled in a way of life which eventually led to his death. His contrition of heart and petition to Jesus shortly before his death brought the promise of eternal life. May the strength of conviction he mustered while on the cross be an encouragement for us all to turn our lives to God and live in the kingdom … but not to risk waiting until our final hour to do so.
When the Romans executed a person by crucifixion, they did so in a location where passersby could see the person dying. A sign was placed above the head of the person crucified to indicate the reason why the person had been condemned to death. This was done both to inform the public as well as to discourage others from committing the same crimes. The sign above Jesus’ head was written in Latin (official language of the Roman empire), Greek (the language most commonly spoken in the empire) and Hebrew (the language of the Jewish people). You have seen the letters INRI on a cross. These are the first letters of the Latin “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.