The power of powerlessness

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Christ the King

The Church's liturgical cycle always closes with the celebration of the Feast of the Kingship of Jesus. Nowadays, we take the Kingship of Jesus for granted. But not so during the time of Jesus. Even towards the end of His life, it was still being questioned as we see in today's gospel (Lk. 23:35–43). We can learn much about Jesus' kind of Kingship from the way some people behaved as Jesus was being crucified.

First, the rulers. Having habitually used power for their own benefit, they now wanted Jesus to prove that He was the Messiah by using His power to save Himself: "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God." This remark confirms what people in power had and have been saying all along, namely, "What are we in power for?" This is specially true of politicians. Before an election, they promise the people heaven on earth just to win their votes. But after the election, well, they have to take care of themselves first. After all, they spent a lot of money during the campaign. The people? The can come later if at all.

Second, the soldiers. Like their bosses, they taunted Jesus: "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." They could not do otherwise, because their power rests on that of their boss. Here we see what leadership by example does to people. As the leader is, so are the followers.

Third, the unrepentant criminal. His case is specially sad. He was tied to the cross — totally powerless. Yet at the moment when salvation could be so near, he turned against Jesus saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." Why? Because he was not ready to put his salvation in the hands of a Man Who would not save Himself. In our desire to control our own destiny, do we not behave as if our salvation is entirely in our own hands?

On the other hand, Jesus refused to use power for Himself, not even to save Himself. Rather, He appealed to the better nature of people to do what is right. Though powerful — He performed miracles during His public ministry or He could have called on His Father's legions during His arrest in the garden of Gethsemani, He used powerlessness — the cross — to win and save humankind. Or if Jesus used power at all, it was to give life, not to take it away.

This last is specially true in the way Jesus dealt with the good thief who was being crucified with Him. Rebuking his fellow criminal, the good thief turned to Jesus saying, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus, acting as Savior even at the last moment of His life, told him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." In doing so, Jesus made concrete what He taught the people earlier, namely, "Ask and you shall receive." Do we not see in the repentant thief a simpler version of the prodigal son who had gone astray but eventually returned to his Father's house where he was welcomed wholeheartedly by his father?

Jesus as Savior does not think of His own skin as He works for the salvation of others for whose sake He came in the first place. That was what Jesus did with the penitent thief. And in forgiving the thief, Jesus did not inquire about his sinful past. He was only concerned about his future. How different is Jesus' way of forgiving with that of ours! First, we make those who have offended us deserve our forgiveness before we take them back. If we can only go beyond our hurts, disregard our cynicism and forgive others, that is, we think not of their past but of their future blessings — as Jesus did with the good thief — then we are not far from the Kingdom of God.

Above the head of Jesus was the inscription: "This is the king of the Jews." Jesus is king, but not the way His contemporaries imagined. He is King for us through the way of the cross. In fact, Jesus would not have been among us as our King, if He had relied on His power to escape the cross.

Some people want to change people by using force, others by following Jesus' example — through the way of the cross. It is when we rely on the powerlessness of the cross that we are strongest, that we can be kings like Jesus.

Still, because of our state of life or position in the community, say as parents or community leaders, we are entrusted with some power. How are we to use it? We can turn it into a channel of God's loving care for people. How? By bringing about happier families filled with understanding, respect, readiness to serve and to forgive. By bringing about more peaceful and just communities.

This way, power or authority becomes service. Our readiness to really serve others and in the process save ourselves is what makes us kings with Jesus. This is what it means to derive power from the cross.