Luke 23:33-43
Christ and the power of shared human existence: kindness, love and justice

Rev Dr William Loader
(Uniting Church New Testament Scholar)

A different kind of king! The passage bristles with irony… Had he not said that the great among you shall as the one who serves? Had he not called into question the dominant models of power? At the same time other forces [desired] triumphalism which reversed the incident of shame and preferred a Lord and King on an invisible throne!

The complexity is not to be disentangled. Paul knew that when he spoke of the powerful powerlessness of the cross. The risen Christ carries the marks of the crucified and his heart. The crucifixion confronts the norms of power with a new way of being; ultimately, a new way of being God.

In Luke Jesus is being crucified on the grounds that he is subversive. That subversiveness is associated with the notion of a ‘messiah’ (‘anointed’) king. ‘Christ’ is simply the Greek word for ‘anointed’. ‘

Christians acclaimed Jesus as messiah, but he was not the kind of messiah which warranted such an execution. In that sense the charge was false. … 

Was Jesus then a messiah, a Christ, of a rather harmless kind, concerned primarily with the inner or other world? … Something was smouldering in the movement of Jesus.

Luke presents Jesus from the beginning as one who is addressing Israel’s hopes of liberation. The songs of the birth narratives are full of it. Jesus marches into the synagogue to link his mission to Isaiah 61 in 4:16-20. He announces good news to the poor, hungry, those who wept. He asserts and expresses the value of those considered valueless. He gathers people and announces change. … Rather he is announcing change and embodying it already in himself and in his community. Dangerous? Certainly not harmless for those with a vested interest in the status quo. …

[Here is] a different kind of kingship. But it is not a kingship which abdicates into an inner or other world. Powerlessness is simply passivity if no power is taken up. Jesus was enormously powerful and assertive. He [came to] spread a revolution of love and grace, which entailed identifying and embodying a new kind of power and priority. …

… Asserting Christ the king as an image of ethereal splendour with all the trappings of ancient royalty, in word or in song (plenty of possibilities here!), reinforces standard images of greatness as might and domination. Asserting Christ the king as a counter image, of a life poured out in compassion in life and even in the midst of the cruelty and corruption which keeps the poor poor, is a subversive declaration. It is a way of locating what matters most – and in the end: God.