Today’s Gospel is a fascinating story that is only seen in Luke. Matthew and Mark only refer to Jesus being crucified between two revolutionaries. In Luke, we see the interaction between the man who came to be known as the good thief and Jesus. If you imagine two camera angles one the long shot where you see Jesus crucified between two others and then dissolve into the close up where you see and hear the conversation between Jesus and the other two, you can get a good sense of the two different focuses.
There is so much in this little passage and it speaks volumes.
First let us look at the bad thief. He says if you are the son of God, then get yourself off the cross and us as well. Look carefully at that formula, it is the same that devil uses against Jesus in the temptation in the desert. If you are the son of God turn these stones into bread.
So, the bad thief in his intense narcissism is channeling the devil.
This confirms St. Maximus the Confessor’s teaching that the crucifixion was truly demonic—it is the devil at work trying the get Jesus not to love for just a millisecond so humanity would have been lost. It is here we can see what the devil manifestations really look like by his attempt to destroy all humanity through trying to get Jesus to fail.
Now notice the good thief, he not only scolds the bad thief, but he also asks Jesus to remember him when he gets into his kingdom. Despite the overpowering prevalence of evil, the Good Thief by acknowledging Jesus for whom he is, becomes resistant to the worst of the devil’s power.
There are two powerful things there. One notice that even though the bad thief is channeling the devil, the good thief scolds him. He does not fear him and tells him off.
In Christ, we have power even over the devil when he is at his strongest. Christ conquered death and conquered evil. Nothing can defeat us in Christ.
Then he asks Jesus to welcome him when he gets into his kingdom. You may not realize how profound that statement is, but it is profound. You see this means that the good thief was the first human, besides Mary, to recognize Jesus’ true mission. Leading all repentant sinners to eternal life.
The apostles did not understand it until Jesus’ resurrection.
In the Sacra Pagina series on the Gospel of Luke, we see this powerful teaching that everyone rejecting Christ sees salvation only through the perpetuation of human existence. I would add—without transformation.
If Jesus did get the bad thief off the cross, he would not stop being a bad thief; he would continue until he ended up in the same place.
The pharisees continued being whom they were after Jesus died. Everyone continued being whom they were before they met Jesus because they rejected his promises of salvation. Their hope was in all the Earth had to offer them, but the Earth was passing away. In their case, it was quite literally so because forty years later the Romans destroyed the temple and wiped the political entity of Judah off the map. The Jewish state would not exist again until 1948.
How many people reject Christ every day because they want what this world has to offer and how many others warn that our world is in great flux?
However, notice it is those who discover that this world ultimately offers us nothing in the long run, as evidenced by the good thief on the cross, that discover Jesus’ promise.
St. Bonaventure points out that Jesus allows himself to be lifted up on the cross in order to ensure all understand that He is accessible to all. Once we recognize that Jesus came for even the worst of all sinners then we realize no one is outside the hope of Jesus. He offers himself even to the worst of all sinners. Remember, the good thief does what the bad thief does not—he acknowledges his sin repents and offers himself to Christ. The bad thief never acknowledges His sin, does not repent and dies outside of God’s graces.
There we see powerfully everything we need to know about salvation. We must never take our own salvation for granted and always be ready by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation AKA Confession.
We must never despair of the salvation of even the worst of all sinners. In fact, I know of no saint who ever felt there was anyone had no hope of salvation. They knew that the repentant sinner, no matter how much of a sinner he or she may be would find Christ.
Finally, however, this also refutes a common belief that all are saved, for they cannot resist Jesus’ powerful grace once they encounter Him. If that were true, there would be two good thieves on the cross. One remember, never repents.
This is a powerful lesson. We are agents of God’s mercy. I want you to notice something. What did Jesus say on the cross before the good thief spoke to him? Nothing! His mere presence spoke volumes to both thieves. One who had a selfish hardened heart was revealed for whom he was; the other who recognized that his way of life offered him nothing repented. It was then he spoke to Jesus.
Until he spoke to Jesus, Jesus said nothing to either of them. He never spoke to the bad thief, never tried to convert him and by the way the bad thief remains one of the two people to whom he never responded the other is King Herod.
If you ever think that your coming to Mass is a waste a time, never forget you are as much a sign to the worst of all sinners by supporting this parish and attending Mass as Jesus was on the Cross itself.
Further, even the worst of all sinners who repents gets into Heaven as Jesus proclaims all the time. However, again it is not as some say that it is an automatic process and everyone gets in. No, it requires a desire to recognize Jesus as our Lord and King and to build our friendship with Him. We enter into communion with him and become powerful agents of his love and mercy.
Prayer is essential and in this case, the prayer begins with nothing more than Remember me Lord when you enter into your kingdom.