By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
CHAPTER IX. SUPREME TESTIMONY GIVEN TO THE ROYAL DIGNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
WE have seen how Jesus was proclaimed King by Pilate and how this title be came the head and fount of the charge brought forward by the Jews to compass the condemn nation of the Saviour. But a supreme testimony was yet to be given to the fact of the regal dignity of Jesus Christ. This was to come from a twofold source, from His enemies and from His friends; the former in the shape of a supreme insult; the latter in the shape of a supreme homage.
The enemies were drawn from all ranks of the Jewish people, the priests, the scribes, the ancients and all the multitude looking on. To these were joined the soldiery, which was Gen tile but followed the example of the Jews, and all of them launched at the crucified Saviour the impious defiance: "If he be the King of Israel, lei him now come down from the cross: and we will believe him" (Matth. XXVII, 42; Mark XV, 32.) "lf thou be the King of the Jews, save thyself" (Luke XXIII, 37.)
Jesus at this defiance did not give way, did not forsake the cross, because the well-being and salvation of His blasphemers required that he should not leave this throne of divine clemency. The excess of His charity kept Him hanging wounded on the cross in the midst of tortures and contumely. At the same time, He bore eloquent witness to His regal dignity. For this supreme mockery shows that if Jesus hung on the tree of the cross, it was because He wished to be recognized as the King of Israel. Thus, in His martyrdom He gave solemn witness to His divinity and to His quality of King of man kind.
But lo! in this very place of torture and scorn, another voice dominates the tumult and confesses, in the presence of all, this royal dignity of Jesus. One of the two thieves crucified with Him, being near his end, and therefore in that state of mind when human interest no longer moves man to keep up the language of deceit and flattery, turns to Jesus and says to Him: "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into thy kingdom." (Luke XXIII, 42.)
Into Thy kingdom? But how can he speak of a kingdom with reference to Jesus? Where is the throne of majesty, where is the scepter of power, where is the mantle of state, where is the regal crown? For nothing is here to be seen save an infamous gallows, blood-stained nails and a crown of thorns. But let us not forget it, we are dealing with the reign of a meek Sovereign of whom the Church sings: "Regnavit a ligno Deus" "God hath reigned from the tree"—the meek and gentle King Jesus, the King of our hearts.
This humble and ardent prayer of the good thief is indeed a precious confession of the regal dignity of Jesus Christ. The cross, with all its accompanying shame, is not for that repentant sinner, that hero of faith and love, an object of shame or scandal, but a memorial of the power and wisdom of God. If others, and especially his companion in misery, only behold in Jesus an iniquitous malefactor, justly, as they think, condemned by the severity of the laws; he, for his part, sees in that hard wood, the throne of the royal majesty of the Saviour, and in that head crowned with thorns he adores the King of kings and Lord of lords. Not content with turning to Him in his heart, he wishes that his voice be heard by everybody, so that all may know that Jesus is the true King, the Messias promised by the prophets.
Jesus, on His part, confirms with the most consoling promises the ardent confession of this man, once a rebel to the law of God but now changed into His own humble subject: "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise" (Luke XXIII, 43.)
Jesus, therefore, is King of our hearts, and all those are His subjects who submit to Him fully and try to model after His image their wills, their affections and their whole hearts.
The Christian soul, which sees in the Sacred Heart of Jesus its rightful Leader, its Chief and Sovereign, and places itself entirely under His scepter, consecrating to Him all that it is and all that it possesses, may be said to act in accordance with the spirit of the evangelical text as embodied in the narrative of the good thief. Such a soul, by the fact that it follows in all things and through all things the lovable will of Jesus and obeys His commands, is already, as it were, in possession of the heavenly kingdom: for to serve Jesus is to reign.