The Feast of Christ the King is a significant marker in the Church Year. It is the divider between the beginning and the end and yet a feast that clearly reminds us that the beginning and end are both here and now, present at the same time in the same place. I was particularly touched as I listened to the readings for this Cycle C year. How completely perfect that the first two readings trace our history as a people of faith and the Gospel bring us to the poignant scene with the “Good Thief”. It is my observation that people often pay most attention to the fact that the man, who begged Jesus’ mercy, as he was dying, was a “thief” and nothing more. Somehow, that label draws our main focus. As often is the case with the Bible, there is much more here than meets the eye.
Recall the scene, all who were “followers” of Jesus have turned tail and run away with the exception of his Mom, best friend, and a few courageous women. None of the people who were “believers” admit to their “loyalty” even as they are standing at a distance and see Him dying. The soldiers and officials present are “enjoying” their taunts as they join in shameful mockery; “ If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Lk 23: 36) No one dares speak the word that he really is the long awaited King of biblical promise, even if their heart tells them that is true. Not a word, no support, no witness, no validation as he hang dying, not one encouragement from the people who supposedly love him. In the middle of this horror, a voice rings out from a totally unexpected place, the thief, the justly convicted one right next to Him! What nerve, what disrespect a common criminal can have. In a fashion that is nothing but a taunt the thief “dares” the King to prove himself and save them all. How can this make matters better? Jesus does not respond to this final insult and remains silent. Yet another voice rings out, the second thief, another common criminal, but what he has to say is a witness for the ages that God is ever loving and eager to forgive sin if only we humble ourselves.
The second thief screams out the truth in his agony, a conversion of mega proportion. He tells the first thief, literally, to “shut up” and show some respect. “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” (Ibid. 40) Then he publically declares the truth for all to hear: “this man has done nothing criminal.” (Ibid. 41) and asks not to be saved as the first thief, but only to be remembered when Jesus meets the Father. He speaks what the assembled are too cowardly to say. Jesus cannot help but respond to this second dialog. He is, after all the Son and never misses an opportunity to show the world the love of the Father. The horrendous circumstances are no exception and his word to the Good Thief is earth shattering: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”(Ibid. 43) How many of us would beg the Lord to hear exactly the same words? And yet this thief, this punished sinner, not “good enough” to live, receives the ultimate eternal gift that money can’t buy.
The only thing he did as he hang dying was to publically admit that Jesus was God and totally innocent. Then humble himself by asking for a simple remembrance from the Son of Man. No demands, no bitterness, no begging, no complaining, no bargaining, no promise of great things if he was saved. Just a simple request, that’s all. How many times have you tried to strike a deal with the Lord? How many times have you complained that things “down here” are just too hard? How many times have you told Him that if he only does this favor for you, you will perform “great acts” on his behalf? How many times have you told someone that Jesus is the King? How many times have you humbled yourself before him and asked for His blessing, that’s all? The Good Thief teaches us that faith and conversion really are as simple as some say; believe, humble yourself before God. Even if you have been deep in sin for a very long time, that’s all it takes. How many people have you given this message to? What about yourself? Get busy, the New Year has begun and we have much work to do!
Copyright©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved.
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