Happy Palm Sunday, dear readers! Here’s an article on a different subject than which I had promised earlier, but today’s reading on the Passion of Christ struck me so forcibly that it would be a crime not to write about it. The part in particular which struck me is the story of the Good Thief. Now, I claim this to be my favorite story in the Bible; yet, my ignorance of all the implications of this story was very clearly laid out to me. Let’s quote it here in full:
35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43)
You notice that I quoted a little more than the story of the Good Thief. This shows the general trend of people mocking Jesus, saying “Are you really the Messiah?” I opine that the crowds, soldiers, and synagogue officials represent those people nowadays who are outside of the Church and refuse to believe. Not only do they refuse to believe, but they even ridicule the idea of a Crucified God. If only they would stop ridiculing Him, they might be converted like the centurion who says after Jesus breathes His last: “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” (Luke 23:47)
But, I really do not wish to focus on the figures above, but rather the two thieves crucified with Jesus, who represent two kinds of Christians. I say represent Christians because all Christians were baptized into the Passion and Death of Christ as well as into Our Lord’s Resurrection to new life. So, we have to carry our crosses and be crucified on them eventually. Note how the Bad Thief speaks to Our Lord: “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” I feel that for the past while I had imitated the bad thief, and those who are troubled by the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Pain are rather similar. Christians like this say: “Are you not all powerful? Why do I have to suffer so much? Is it really possible to suffer this much? Take me down from this cross and just give me the Kingdom without a cross!”
Then, there are humble Christians who realize that we must follow our Master all the way up Mt. Calvary, and say, like the Good Thief: “Justly do I suffer these things! If I had not sinned, this would not be happening to me! If I had not so much pride, this would not be happening! Jesus suffered more than the human mind can fathom, and He was a pure and unblemished Lamb. Ought I not to drain the cup my sins have merited?”
Jesus Speaks to the Good Thief.
Then, instead of turning to Jesus and begging to be taken down from the cross, the Good Thief asks: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” The Good Thief is not asking to be taken down from his cross; instead, he asks for salvation. This salvation does not require freedom from suffering, but freedom and purification from sin and the promise of eternal life. We should all try to imitate St. Augustine, who begged not to be spared pain in this life so that he might suffer less after death–referring to purgatory, I suppose.
Then, by imitating the Good Thief, we shall receive words of consolation from God. Jesus spoke to neither the crowds nor the bad thief because of their lack of faith. But, if we have faith and do not blame God for any evil which befalls us, then Jesus shall speak to us and console us in our sufferings. By continuing in this attitude, we shall one day hear the most consoling words of all: “Truly I say to you, today, you shall be with me in paradise.”