This passage is filled with irony. Jesus behaves with the graciousness and greatness of a true leader, thinking of others even at the moment when he himself is being put to death and is enduring terrible pain. But no one recognises his qualities They are too busy casting lots for his clothes or scoffing at him. If he is the good shepherd, the true king who is capable of rescuing and safeguarding the nation from harm, why can't he also save himself?
Even one of the criminals joins in the mockery, but the other springs to Jesus' defence. Perhaps he is just clutching at straws. After all, what has he got to lose? As well as being executed, he is about to come under the judgement of God for his misdeeds. By throwing himself upon Jesus' mercy he just might escape eternal punishment for his crimes. Or is there more to it than this? Does he recognise that the ironic thing about true leadership is the willingness of the leader to endure suffering and make self-sacrifices for the sake of the people he is leading? Only empty and worthless leaders stand aloof from the suffering and experiences of the people they are in charge of; genuine leaders stand alongside their colleagues and lead by example.
Someone has said that true leaders don't inflict pain, they bear pain. Someone else has said that true leadership has nothing to do with your job title, or the position you happen to hold, but everything to do with how you act. And the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu observed that in order to lead people, you have to walk beside them. All of these characteristics of true leadership are borne out by the example of Jesus on the cross.