Sunday, November 10, 2019

Luke 23.33-43: King and Kin

Remember me when you come into your kingdom. That's the request made by one of the thieves being crucified with Jesus. Jesus' response is a promise that the one thief will be with him in paradise. Not at some unknown time in the future, but that very day. (Luke 23:43) It is a promise that clearly shows who Jesus is. Even in this moment, Jesus offers the gift of relationship to the thief. With me, Jesus says.

But you'd never know that from most of the images of the crucifixion. In most images, three crosses, each with a human figure, are separated completely from each other. Sky, clouds, or other background elements are clearly visible between either the outstretched arms of the cross or the bent arms of the thieves. This separation clearly reflects the relationship between a king and the residents of the kingdom. Royalty does not mix with common people. Remember Lerner and Loewe's King Arthur sitting around wondering, "What do the simple folk do?" Pietro Lorenzetti (below left) captures the distance between Jesus and the thieves. His perspective seems to indicate that the two crosses are behind Jesus'.

But the text tells us that Jesus is reaching out to those around him. In that, Jesus is acting more like kin than king. He will not be separated from people who reach out to him. The icon fragment (below center) gives a hint of that.
(Left) Pietro Lorenzetti. The Crucifixion. 1430s. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Center) Crucifixion with Two Thieves. 8th century. St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai, Egypt. (Right) Hans von Tubingen. Crucifixion. c. 1430s. Vienna: Osterreiche Galerie Belvedere. (currently unable to connect link)
The thief at Jesus' right in the icon fragment (above center) is placed literally under Jesus' hand. The blood from the wound in Jesus' hand seems to be pouring onto the thief's head. It might even be that in this moment, the thief is being "washed in the blood of the Lamb," becoming part of the family.

The Hans Tubingen painting (above right) places Christ's hand above the thief on his right, but there is distance between hand and head, and there is no blood tying the thief to Jesus. However, the head of the thief on Jesus' right leans his head toward Jesus insuring that his head is (at least in the picture space) under Jesus' hand.

In this painting, though, we see what is happening with the other thief, and what is happening is a complete rejection of Jesus. Though Jesus' hand is placed so that it could be in a visual relationship with the head of the thief on the left, the artist has curved that thief's torso over the top of the tau-shaped cross. He appears to be leaning back as if to move himself as far away from Jesus as possible. Rejecting Jesus as both king and kin.

For additional thoughts on the reign of Christ, click here, here, here, or here.

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