33. And when they came on the place the one being called the skull, there they affixed him and the criminals to crosses, one on his right and one on his left 34. [And Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them, for they had not known what they are doing.] And they divided his clothing by casting lots 35. And the people stood by watching, but the leaders also turned their noses up at him saying, “Others he saved, let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, the one who was chosen.” 36. And the soldiers also mocked him coming to him bringing to him wine vinegar 37. And saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, You save yourself! 38. And an inscription was also over him, “The King of the Jews this is.” 39. And one of the criminals who had been hung on the cross blasphemed him saying, “Are you not the Christ? You save yourself and us! 40. But answering the other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, that in the same verdict you are? 41. And we justly, for who has done receives an equivalent, but this one is out of place, this one has done nothing.” 42. And he said, “Jesus, remember me whenever you come into your kingdom.” 43. And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in the paradise.”
Punctuation. Not really the first thing most of you probably thought about after reading these texts. But I am struck by what we talked about in Gospels class at seminary on this passage. Where does the comma go? Because the original Greek text did not have any punctuation, so did Jesus say to the thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Or did Jesus say to the thief, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” These are the same words, but the placement of the comma makes a huge difference in the meaning of what Jesus said. However with the other readings shedding light on our text for today, and how Luke uses the word today in other places, there is more to this passage then the placement of the comma.
Today we celebrate our New Year’s Eve in the church. Our liturgical year begins anew with the start of Advent, so this is the last Sunday of this year. Today we celebrate Christ the King, the day when we look at Christ as king. In Year A the emphasis on this Sunday is on Jesus’ identification of himself with the oppressed and the helpless found in Matthew 25:31-46. In Year B, it is on Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Judeans.” Found in John 18:33-37. In Year C, today we are looking at a passage of Jesus on the cross, not suffering, or at least Luke never says anything about that. We see the people standing by watching what is happening, and the leaders turn up their noses at Jesus, they mock him. We see the Roman Soldiers mock him, brought him wine to drink and told him to save himself, if he was the King of the Jews. We see one of the thieves on the cross blaspheme him, telling Jesus to save himself and him and the other thief with him. No where in this passage does it say Jesus suffered. We see Jesus for who and what he was, is and is always being King.
I spent this past weekend with about 250 Junior High school kids at the junior high Ramada, where we focused on Celebration of Life. Bishop Pile came and preached on Sunday morning, his sermon was about celebrating life. The interesting part of this sermon was a story he told about his visit with his son Nathan. You may or may not know there was a fire at the seminary in Gettysburg, and Frank Harpster and his family, along with Nathan Pile and Brian Evens were left without a home and much of what they called their stuff. No person was hurt, the Harpster’s dog died, and a big majority of their stuff was destroyed. Nathan’s apartment was damaged by the fire, but not completely destroyed. Bishop Pile told us about how he, his wife, and Nathan sifted through the charred items in Nathan’s apartment to try to see what they could save from the fire. They took garbage bags full of clothes to a local laundry mat in Gettysburg, and took it over. The filled all the washers, and while they were filling these washers a family came in to get a load of clothes from a dryer. The man recognized the smell and asked if the Piles where from the fire on the seminary. Nathan said he was, and the man introduced himself and told Nathan he understood what he was going through, because their home had burned about a year ago. The man asked Nathan if there was anything his family could do for him, and he replied that he was doing fine. The man gave Nathan his name and phone number and said that if needed anything to give him a call, they got their laundry and left. The Piles continued to work on the clothes they had brought in, and moved them to the dryers, when the man returned. He handed Nathan a $35 gift card for Wal-Mart. Bishop Pile commented that he was over joyed by this gift. Not because Nathan got the $35, but the celebration of life continued, through the love this man was showing Nathan. A brother he did not know, yet was willing to help in any way he could. Christ Love was alive in the midst of the ashes of the fire. Families that lost everything, saw the love of Christ in people they had never met before.
As I listened to Bishop Pile’s sermon, I was struck by the centrality of the cross in our loves. How the text for this week puts Christ at the center. In the middle of the thieves, and in the center of our lives as the one who did save us, and himself. This story helped me get perspective on this Sundays texts. Jeremiah says “The Lord is our righteousness” The lord is the one who makes us right. And Colossians says he rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom… And we like the thief on the cross ask Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus says to the thief and to us, Amen truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise. We focus on the future by saying please remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus see our faith and proclaims the salvation has already happened, Today you will be with me. We are not saved from suffering, we are not saved from pain, we are not saved from enduring fires, from losing pets, from having to pay money we are not sure where it is coming from to fix our house, or our car, we are saved with a right relationship with the one who was before all things, the beginning the first born from the dead. Christ is king, from the throne of the cross. Our king does not come on a white horse; he gives up his life, so that we might have life.
So today as we celebrate Christ our King, and look at him on the cross, we can forget about where the comma goes, we can know that Luke makes it clear that today we are with him. Today is the time of salvation, we see this in Luke 2:11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. We see this in the story of Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah and saying Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, in Luke 4:21. Today is the time of our salvation, and Jesus is central, and his love to give up his life so that we may have life allows us to see him as king on the cross.