Christ’s Second Word from the Cross:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him:
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
What made the Good Thief good?
He saw the Good in Jesus, when those who stood by and mocked the dying Lord did not.
To see the Good, one must first have goodness in him. This is so, because the God who made us, made all things good and saw that they were good, first.
It is important to reflect on this from time to time. When you are bad and guilty of doing evil things, you are never so bad that the Lord won’t forgive you. He still looks on you with love when others have abandoned you. In time of despair, remember that Jesus also felt the severe pain of abandonment. When feeling low, remember how he chose, for your sake, to hang on a cross between thieves. When life deals difficult blows, even when we deserve those blows, remember him in those moments, and remember the thief he forgave and saved in the darkest hour before he died.
Whatever evil you have done, God loves you. This can only mean he sees the goodness still in you even when you aren’t able to see it, because he proved with the sacrifice of his blood on the cross that you are worth dying for.
It is important to ask God for this hope. Our hope does not consist in what little good can be found in us sinners. There are some virtues that can only be found in God, which God can instill in us if we look to him and ask for it. When we look to ourselves only, we are in danger of falling into the sin of presumption or despair. Here is where we must learn a lesson from the Good Thief and turn our eyes to the Lord for hope.
The Good Thief gained hope when saw that Jesus was more than just an innocent man condemned to the death that he and his companion rightfully earned. During his desperate eleventh hour, he heard Lord say the words, “Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He came to realize that this holy man had power over those who ridiculed and tormented him. When he saw that Jesus had the power to forgive and save, a mysterious, kingly power over sin and death, he believed in him and he asked for a place in his kingdom.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Then Jesus looked at him.
In reality, we know that Jesus looked him first; and when he first saw him, loved him. That is why he came to this very hour — to save him.
The Good Shepherd, who came to seek out the good that is lost, saw the good in this man and drew it out of him. He sees the same in each and every one of us, when he looks at us individually, just as he did when he created us. The encounter of salvation is a unique, individual encounter with Christ. The encounter with the Good Thief represents your encounter with the Lord.
Unfortunately, for some, it can turn out to be the other encounter, the one with the bad thief. This can happen to any one of us, when we let ourselves fall into the sin of presumption or despair and fail to hope in our one Savior, Jesus Christ, to redeem us. What a miserable failing that would be, for anyone!
Ask the Lord for the gift to persevere in hope, that you may one day hear the saving words, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”
This post is part 2 of 7 of this year’s reflections on the 7 Last Words of Christ from the Cross. You may also be interested in reading last year’s Meditations on the 7 Last Words, by Fr Jason Smith: