November 20, 2022
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
2 Samuel 5:1-3
“Jesus, remember me.” If you are ever tempted to overcomplicate your prayer, or don’t know where to begin, these words of the penitent thief are the perfect remedy. By them, he asks our Lord for mercy and submits himself to our Lord’s kingship. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
Our Lord’s response is remarkable, and gives window into who our King is and what constitutes his Kingdom. He says to the repentant thief, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Paradeisos — “the garden.” Once upon a time, “the Lord planted a garden [paradeison] in Eden.” (Genesis 2:8) He placed Adam in the garden to “work it and guard it,” (Genesis 2:15) giving him and his wife Eve “dominion … over all the earth … (to) subdue it.” (Genesis 1:26.28) To “work” and “guard” are two verbs not paired again in the Bible until the duties of the Levitical priests are described in the book of Numbers. (3:7-8; 8:26; 18:7) And to “subdue” and “exercise dominion” are expressions that come to describe the kingship of David and of Solomon. (2 Samuel 8:11; 1 Kings 4:24) Adam is therefore described as a priest-king set to guard and rule over the garden in which God planted him.
He rebels, of course, along with the queen “mother of all the living,” (Genesis 3:20) stealing fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and so being barred from the tree of life and the “eternal life” its fruit bestows (Genesis 3:22), he and Eve are expelled from the garden of God.
Many moons come and go, and though man draws close again to God near other garden shrubberies, from the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18) to the burning bush (Exodus 3), it is not until Jesus addresses the repentant thief on a tree of his own that the garden of God is declared open to man again.
As Luke makes clear, Jesus is the “son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38), filled like the first Adam with the Spirit of God (cf. Genesis 2:7; Luke 4:1) and tempted like him by the Devil. (Genesis 3; Luke 4:2) But he, of course, resists the temptations that come to him. He undergoes and passes the test in another garden, of Gethsemane, choosing, unlike the first Adam, to obey the Father’s will for him. (Luke 22:39-42) And by the passion, death, and resurrection to which that will leads him, this New Adam re-opens the garden and grants access again to the tree of life, which the Fathers of the Church understood to be revealed as the Cross of Christ. Its fruit is the Eucharist, and by partaking of it, we are granted eternal life.
Our King is a priest and victim on our behalf. (Hebrews 7:26-27) His reign is marked with mercy, poured out to reconcile us with God after all of our pathetic attempts to steal for ourselves a wisdom of our own making. To be a repentant thief is to enter into his Kingdom and find rest in his garden, which he invites us to guard and rule here on earth, “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:1-4.43-47)
He can be difficult to find in this complex world. Look for him at the Tree of Life. He desires to encounter us there, as Aquinas reflects on in his Eucharistic hymn “Adoro Te Devote,” translated here by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart,
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.
As his divinity was hidden on the Cross, so now both his divinity and his humanity are hidden in the Eucharist, where our Risen King gloriously reigns. In his presence, we profess our belief and beseech his mercy as did the thief, asking our Lord, quite simply, to remember us when he comes into his kingdom.