Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Week 2018 | The Seven Last Words from the Cross Part 2: Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise

Holy Week 2018 Seven Last Words from the Cross Reflection | Tuesday

Previous Seven Last Words from the Cross Post:

Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do

Second Words Focus

“Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:32-33, 39-43

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him.
33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
43 And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Second Reflection Readings

All four Evangelists  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John  want us to know about the two malefactors on either side of our Lord. It seems to be a very deep part of the tradition about Him. For one thing, it was prophesied in the Old Testament: Isaiah wrote, "He was numbered among the transgressors" (53:12). He was not numbered among the religious or politically connected. He was not numbered among the civic leaders or the business leaders or the church leaders. He was "numbered among the transgressors," and crucified. Jesus suffered "outside the city wall," away from the "good" neighborhoods and "good" people. According to Mark and Matthew, the men he was crucified with were men of violence, prepared to kill as well as steal. Good Friday summons us to think deeply about the profoundly strange nature of a crucified God nailed up between two violent bandits for the scorn of the passerby.

Yet the evangelist Luke intends for us to be drawn into the story. We are invited to see ourselves in these two next to Jesus. There are aspects of us in both of them. We are like the one on the left: we say, "If you are the Messiah, save Yourself - and save us too, while you're at it." Like this thief, we do not see any sign of Jesus' power in this crucifixion. For us the Cross can be a sign of weakness, ugliness, and failure. And yet the second thief said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." In the Old Testament, when God "remembers," it does not mean "to think about" or "to recall to mind." When God "remembers," He acts for us, with power to save. Somehow the crucified criminal on Jesus' right was enabled to see Jesus reigning as a King and determining the destinies of people even in His tormented and dying state. To see Him that way, Luke is telling us, is to see Him as He truly is and to understand the source of His power. I ask you now: Can you see yourself as the one for whom Jesus died? Can you say with the second thief, Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom? The Cross was for us too, with our false masks of innocence and our delusions about our own righteousness. Can we rejoice that we along with all those who by human standards would not have been considered salvageable are promised an eternal destiny of joy together with Christ in His heavenly Kingdom?

It is almost impossible for us not to identify with the thief’s request. "Please, dear Jesus, remember us. Insure that our lives will have significance so that we will be more than bubbles on the foam of life." Jesus’s crucified companion, however, does not ask to be remembered so that his life will have significance. Rather he asks, as the Psalms have taught Israel to ask, to be remembered when Jesus comes into His Kingdom.

Such a request makes sense only if Jesus – a man undergoing the same crucifixion the thief suffers – can fulfill such a request. We desperately ask to be remembered, fearing we are nothing. In contrast this thief confidently asks to be remembered because he recognizes the One who can remember.

+ Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ

Note that this is the only time in any Gospel account that someone addresses Jesus simply by name. Otherwise it is always "Jesus Son of God," "Jesus Son of David" or some other form of particular respect. The first person to be so familiar with Jesus is a convicted criminal.

"Today you will be with Me in paradise" is Jesus's response. Jesus does not reject any who turn to Him. At times we turn to Him with little faith, at times with a mix of faith and doubt when we are more sure of the doubt than of the faith. Jesus is not fastidious about the quality of faith. He takes what He can get, so to speak, and gives immeasurably more than He receives. He takes our faith more seriously than we do and makes of it more than we ever could.

Once a father came to Jesus asking Him to heal his sick child. "All things are possible to him who believes," Jesus said. The father cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" And so cry we all. At another time Jesus said if you have faith no greater than a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Here on Golgotha, the place of death and devastation, the criminal may have faith the size of a mustard seed, and yet it blossoms into a tree of eternal life, a tree of paradise. Christ's response to our faith is ever so much greater than our faith. Give Him an opening, almost any opening, and He opens life to wonder beyond measure.

+ Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

Reflection Song

Man of Sorrows
By Hillsong
2012 A.D.

Man of sorrows, Lamb of God,
By His own betrayed;
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid.

Silent as He stood accused,
Beaten mocked and scorned.
Bowing to the Father's will,
He took a crown of thorns.

Oh that rugged cross,
My salvation,
Where Your love poured out over me!
Now my soul cries out,
Praise and honor unto You!"

Sent of heaven God's own Son
To purchase and redeem,
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree.

Next post: Holy Week 2018 | The Seven Last Words from the Cross Part 3: Woman, Behold Your Son

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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