Gospel according to Luke (23:35-43)
THE RULERS sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And, indeed, we have been-condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jon Favreau’s 2019 CGI version of Disney’s classic film The Lion King, has made it to the list of the highest grossing animated films of all time. This feat does not come as a surprise; people love its story and music. The story’s dramatic soul prompts viewers to reflect on one’s identity, purpose, and direction. Simba’s journey, after all, is not different from our life as believers.
In one of the gripping scenes of the film, Simba, through the prodding of the wise did and prophetic baboon Rafiki, realizes the need to leave the Hakuna Matata (“problem-free”) existence in the oasis with the meerkatTimon and warthog Pumbaa. The exiled heir must go back and save his homeland, Pride Rock, after it was turned into a barren wasteland by his wicked uncle Scar and his army of hyenas. However, Simba is prevented by a bad memory: the perceived guilt for the death of his father Mufasa, inflicted by Scar. Mufasa then appears to Simba, reminding his son to step; on his role as the rightful heir to the throne, and assures him of his abiding presence. The conversation between father and son is noteworthy (Mufasa: “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.” Simba: “How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.” Mufasa: “Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king. Remember who you are…”).
This theme of remembrance in the film echoes God’s relationship with his Chosen People (cf. Ex 3:6; 12:14; Dt 5:15; 6:4-9). It is in remembering God’s faithfulness, the Law, the Passover and the Exodus events, etc. that the Israelites can establish and fortify their identity and mission in God’s Kingdom.
Yet we are no better than the scared and anxious Simba and the oblivious Israelites. When the world offers instant gratification, when society pressures us to just hop on the bandwagon of passing fads and convenient beliefs, we forget. When present trials and tribulations engulf us, when failures beset us and the upshots are shattering, we run away.
The Word of God today reminds that whatever the odds, our deepest identity and destiny lie in Christ the King. Christ is the fullness of the wisdom and power of God; his rule brings meaning, strength, and finality to our life (Second Reading). Surpassing David, the ideal shepherd of Israel (First Reading), Christ is committed to unity, solidarity, and service of God’s people. As a counter-cultural king, however, Christ’s authority lies in his innocence and holiness; his security is in his obedience to the Father. Christ’s ultimate might is fully revealed in his death on the cross and in his message of forgiveness in the Resurrection; his final promise and providence is paradise for all (Gospel).
Remembering our belongingness to Christ the King is key to our solemn celebration. We are more than subjects or servants; we are beloved and adopted children of a heavenly sovereign. We do not submit our souls to Christ; rather, our souls come from him. His laws and decrees aren’t put upon us; rather, these are inscribed in our hearts from creation.
Yet remembrance is not simply recollection or nostalgia of God’s mighty deeds in our personal and communal histories; it is a current and living experience. God’s Kingdom is his transforming presence within each of us, and the world as a whole; it is a Person—Jesus— the “lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” (Rev 5:5) who clutches and drops its prey—evil. It is the ultimate hope of a people who treads the path of memory, of “truth and life; holiness and grace; justice, love, and peace” (Preface of the Mass).
– Fr. Angelo Paolo Asprer, SSP