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Christ the King
Paula O'Shaughnessy,November 17th, 2013

Timothy Jackson stole a jacket from a shop in New Orleans in 1996.  When followed by a detective, he dropped it and tried to walk away.  He was caught, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment with NO CHANCE of parole. (The Economist; 16/11/13)

In the state of Louisiana, like many other states in the US, he fell foul of the 4 strikes (or 3 strikes) law, for habitual criminals.  3,278 people in the United States are in prison, for life without parole, for committing non-violent crimes.  This is the modern day Oubliette the place that has been forgotten, the person imprisoned there forgotten and the key thrown away.  A living death.  As Timothy Jackson's sister said 'It's like he don't exist no more'.  We might like to think of the US as an enlightened, fair country.  Compared with some countries in the world today, it is.

The cruelty of the State in condemning individuals, taking away their liberty and their lives.  Where legal representation is poor or non-existent.  This was so in Jesus' day and tragically remains so today in many countries.  Where life is regarded as expendable and cheap.  Consider for a minute the horror of public crucifixion.  What it would be like walking through say, Crosby village and seeing that sight.

The dreadful thing is, that in some countries this is still happening today.  Amnesty International reported in May this year that Saudi Arabia had beheaded and crucified  at least 47 people.  After one group execution, the bodies were displayed outside the University of Jizan, whilst students were taking exams.  Amnesty International report that those who are executed often receive no trial or legal representation and may be forced to confess to crimes under torture. 

The ultimate power of the State at work taking away the breath of life from a human being and striking fear in the hearts of the living.

Jesus submits to the same, inhuman treatment as these poor souls.  We know he did not commit any crime, yet he was condemned, by those with power over life and death.  He refuses to drink the drugged wine offered to him by the pious women of the town.  It was the custom for the women to do this, as an act of mercy so that the sensations would be numbed for the suffering ahead.  Christ showed the utmost courage. 

How can we understand this?  Perhaps a chink of light in the darkness of our knowledge is given by the story of Victor Frankl.  He was a Jewish man, and psychiatrist who was incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps, survived the holocaust, but lost his wife to the regime.  He gained a profound insight and understanding through his suffering:

            A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth  that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human                     poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express             himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way  an honourable way  in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the                     meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory".

Jesu, offers forgiveness to his persecutors and promises to the repentant criminal, who dies with him, at Golgotha that he may enter with him into Paradise.  This was a Persian word meaning walled garden, and the custom at that time in Persia was that the king would invite a favoured guest to join him in the gardens at his court.  This was a place of protection and shelter from evil and harm.  Contemporary readers of the Gospel would have also recognised Paradise as the holding place of refuge for those souls saved before the final judgement would come.

As Christians we can offer a place of refuge and safety to others, within our hearts.  That we are gentle and kind, and turn away from the ways of darkness.  As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said:

            Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than  water;
            But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it!
            For nothing can take its place.
            That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard,
            This is something known by all, but practised by none

We should pray for those who suffer around the world, through persecution and offer what help we can, through organisations such as Amnesty International.

We recognise in today's Gospel the victory of Christ the King, as light overcomes darkness in the world.

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