by Deacon Pat Derry
A criminal says: “God loves me even though I did wrong.”
Luke paints us a picture of Jesus’ death. It is gruesome, but not emotionally wrought. Luke’s description contain no nails, no blood, no account of suffering and agony. Jesus hangs, dying on a cross, under an inscription “This is the King of the Jews.” It was surely meant to be ironic, but was in reality more truthful than anyone there imagined!
Jesus hangs between two criminals, one on each side of him. In life as in death, Jesus is in the company of “sinners.” Below him, people stand by watching. Soldiers gamble for his clothing as they mock him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Jewish leaders join in the ridicule, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” And finally one of the criminals joins in, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
I wonder if this could have been one of Jesus’ last temptations. Did Jesus even for a moment consider calling the realms of angels to his aid? Jesus does not. He silently takes the abuse, and allows himself, the Creator of the Universe, to die.
But before his last breath, one lonely voice speaks kindly to Jesus. It is the criminal on his right side. We know nothing more of him, but that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah, the chosen one. The criminal recalls his own guilt but pleads with Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promises more than he is asked. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The criminal has no time to make amends, there is no time to do good deeds. It is the end of life. But Jesus needs nothing more. Jesus loves the man, no matter what he has done. And as the man turns his heart to Jesus, he is promised Paradise! Grace – freely given. Forgiveness – with no conditions. Love, pure and simple. Love for the dying criminal, for the mocking soldiers, for the angry leaders, for the watching people. Jesus loves the world, and with a breaking heart opens the way to Paradise.