Let us recall the gospel narratives of the crucifixion of Christ, and forward to that place called Golgotha. For just a moment, imagine those three crosses erected on Calvary, and how those three were alike. Each cross held a man dying in agony. Each man held a criminal sentence on his head. Each of the condemned held two conversations: one with each other and one with God, yet in very different ways.
Consider again the similarities:
Let us read the exchange between the criminals and Christ from Luke 23:39-43:
- \”And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.\”
We can draw in this passage that the good thief:
- Reverenced Jesus as God;
- Rebuked the bad thief;
- Called upon Jesus for forgiveness;
- Desired Christ to spare his eternal life.
In his actions, the good thief recognized God, which indicates faith. He rebuked the blasphemous words of the bad thief, which is a spiritual work of mercy and indisputably an act of charity. He then begs Jesus for forgiveness, which is an act of hope. The good thief demonstrates faith, hope, and love.
We can also draw in these passages that the bad thief:
- Mocked Jesus;
- Ignored the deity of Christ;
- Used his final breaths to request that his bodily life be spared, rather than his eternal life.
In his actions, the bad thief refused to recognize God, which indicates a lack of faith. He blasphemed, an act against charity; and he cared only to save his body, which indicated no hope of anything greater than this life. Fail, fail, fail.
Jesus gave no further response to the bad thief, but promised the good thief “paradise.” So the example has been given for us to follow – in every moment, we should exercise the three virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, and in this way be prepared for entrance into eternal life.
Jesus was positioned in the center of these two, allowing Himself to be subjected to the same punishment, although in an instant He could have indeed saved Himself. It did not matter what the unbelievers thought, or said, or how they treated him (which was exceedingly cruel even in the face of death on a cross) Jesus had made the decision to do His Father’s will, and He followed through to the very end.
There were several things that Jesus said in His final hours, but for the purpose of this writing, only one shall be listed: “And Jesus crying out with a loud voice, said: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46) Christ’s last conversation was total surrender to God the Father.
God subjected His gift of His son to the same free will as all men, and His Son chose to do the will of His father in Heaven rather than follow His own will. He not only gave us this gift, but every grace necessary to receive the gift of Jesus. God is the opposite of a robber; the robber takes by force what he wants for Himself; God gives His only and His best, along with helps for us to receive His gift. How ironic that God, having given to us that which was most beloved of all, His only son, should be flanked by thieves. These robbers took away from others what rightfully belonged to them, while God gave to us that which we had no claims upon, especially where we merited death through original sin, gave to us that which was rightfully His alone.
Like the good thief, let us recognize that God is near to us in our worst sufferings, having lived a life of suffering Himself. Twice before the crucifixion, he eluded death; once, as an infant, fleeing Herod’s soldiers, and another when, “He disappeared from their midst…” (John 8:59). Jesus was always blameless, yet was always challenged by those who loved their laws more than they loved anything else. Jesus was always truthful, yet His testimony to the truth seemed to invite accusations of blasphemy from those whose hearts and minds simply could not grasp the truth. Despite His deity, Jesus was always humble and obedient. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (Phillippians 2:8)
Take comfort then, if you suffer for living a life in contrast to much of the world. “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.” (John 15:18) Take courage if you speak the truth and are suffering because of the truth. You suffer for Christ. “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth…” (John 14:6) Have hope even if you lay dying, as did the good thief, “And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
Finally, remembering the example of the good thief, do not let your sins become an obstacle for your belief in God, your contrition, or your hope. Have faith that there is more than this life awaiting those who love God. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16) Trust that His love for you is far greater than your sins. “But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.” (Ezekiel 18:27)