I was asked to present a meditation on the second word at our Good Friday service. This is what I said:

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Crucifixion is possibly the most painful, gruesome and humiliating way for a human to be publicly put to death. Our word for the highest degree of pain is excruciating from the Latin ex crucio, from the cross.

Rome and other ancient empires deliberately used crucifixion as an object lesson to its subjects. It was a punishment reserved for slaves, pirates and traitors – the lowest of the low. The mocking sign above Jesus head was particularly sarcastic – labelling a person king yet executing them as though they had less status than a slave.

The stronger the person being executed, the longer they lasted on the cross before they died, the longer they suffered the pain. After they died the body would be left on the cross, unless the deceased had rich friends, to continue the object lesson that defying Rome had consequences.

Jesus, the true king, is crucified in between two other convicts. Tradition says that the men were highwaymen who waylaid, killed and robbed travellers who passed through the desert on the road south from Jerusalem. The authorities place Jesus in between two men who are no better than pirates, thus implying that Jesus is himself no better than either of the two notorious highwaymen or even in league with them.

For some length of time, perhaps an hour, perhaps four, depending on whose timeline you believe, Jesus was continually mocked by the assembled crowd. He was mocked by the thieves themselves, at least at first. The crowd, out for an afternoon of free entertainment, mocked Jesus for his supposed pretensions. The thieves mocked him because an all-powerful Messiah would be able to save himself and them from this excruciating humiliation. But Jesus chooses not save to himself, therefore, in the eyes of the crowd he cannot be the Messiah that they expect.

But over the minutes and hours of hanging on the cross in dreadful pain in that terrible place under the hot sun, one of the thieves begins to observe that Jesus is not reacting as expected. Jesus does not turn inward to a place of endurance; he does not shut out the crowd nor does he rail at them. The bandit hears Jesus quote Psalm 22 and realizes that Jesus has truly forgiven the crowd and him with them.

Then the impenitent thief makes one final plea to Jesus to save him from this earthly torment. If you are the Messiah save yourself, and more importantly, save me.

The penitent thief, convinced of Jesus’ authority, rebukes his fellow highwayman. The words of the penitent make it clear that he fears God enough to know that he had done wrong; that he was going to a deserved fate. He acknowledges Jesus’ innocence and his own guilt.

Then he does something remarkable. He asks Jesus for a boon. Not a great boon in the eyes of the world but a boon nonetheless. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

In the eyes of the world this is true folly. A condemned murderer and thief asking a convicted enemy of Rome to remember him when, not if, but when he comes into his kingdom. He does not ask pardon. He does not ask forgiveness. He does not ask for a place at the table or even a menial job in the stables. He asks only that Jesus remember him.

Then Jesus does something equally remarkable. He demonstrates yet again that he has true authority, the authority of a king, and grants that boon. Those hearing the words without faith would interpret them as merely comforting words from one misguided criminal to another. But Jesus again reveals, in the midst of the most painful humiliating death imaginable, that he is Lord of all.

And he said to the penitent thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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Published on April 18, 2014 15:41 • 104 views • Tags: christian

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