Tag Archives: Good Thief

Morning Thoughts: The Bad Thief

rembrandt-self-portrait-c-1668

Rembrandt, “Self Portrait”, c. 1668 (detail)

 


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The Bad Thief
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good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
can be all three?
.
we know of Jesus
as perfect
as perfect can be
speaking faith
breathing forgiveness
the Word
bound up
still
completely free
.
we know too
of the good thief
turning
turning toward Goodness
our Goodness
so gracious
hanging there
tortured
beside him
beside the good thief
Jesus nailed
one with the tree
.
we know too
what happened
what happened then
to the prodigal thief
humility
contriteness
a humble heart
spurned not
yes
true repentance
sorrow for sin
painful sorrow
paid forth
by a sinless man
and God
God the father
accepting the fee
the precious blood
of Jesus Christ
setting him
the good thief free
.
but what
what of the other one
what of the thief
named bad
what of him
unrepentant
deserving to hang
what of that poor man
that poor
prideful soul
just like you and me
that poor
nameless sinner
just like you and me
also hanging
hanging there
hanging above Mary
and the disciple
Jesus loved
hanging there
upon a third
a third
rarely talked about tree
.
who is he?
but you and me
.
i am the bad thief
.
and so are you
.
i have stolen
stolen so much
.
especially time
.
what have you
in your pocket
that isn’t thine?
.
Jesus makes it
perfectly clear
what happens
what happens to thieves
thieves like us
who simply say
i’m sorry
yet even His promise
His promise
full of mercy
His promise
of paradise
of paradise in fact
that very day
doesn’t stop
his good thieving legs
from being smashed
his repentant body
completely broken
head to toe
no
not even Christ’s promise
the promise
from the King Himself
removes the good thief
from the gift
from the gift that is his cross
.
but what of the other one
what of you and me
what of us
thieves who also lie
who reject justice
Justice hanging
right next-door
what of the bad thief
can be redeemed
what of the bad thief
in you and me
God only knows
.
mercy
mercy
mercy
Father
upon the dead
both the living
and the deceased
mercy
mercy
mercy
Father
upon us all
upon Your children
Your children turned thieves
whose faith
and sorrow
is known
by You
and You alone
.
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
and all the rest
of all humanity
can lack
to such a degree
true repentance
true humility
.
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
are all three?
.


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—Howard Hain

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Palm Sunday: The Passion from Luke’s Gospel

Palm Sunday this year we read St. Luke’s passion narrative, which sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as the culmination of his earthly journey. From Galilee, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, to his death on Calvary, his resurrection and finally he ascends into heaven. It’s more than a journey to death, Jesus rises and is welcomed into heaven.

He does not journey alone. In Luke’s gospel, from Galilee to Jerusalem Jesus gathers disciples to accompany him. He does not face death alone–  disciples are with him, though he’s abandoned by twelve of them in the Garden of Gethsemane. Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the fields, takes up his cross and carries it behind him. Simon is a symbol of humanity, along with the ” large crowd of people” including “many women who mourned and lamented him,” Though unaware, disciples are with Jesus on the way.

Jesus says to all in Luke’s gospel, “ If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”(Luke 9,23-24} Simon represents all the followers of Jesus who go with him on his journey. It’s not only the cross of Jesus Simon carries, it’s “his cross,” his daily cross, his own cross.

Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel to the women “who mourned and lamented him” are puzzling. Some say he comforts them as he goes to his death. Others say his words are a prophetic announcement of the judgment that inevitably follows injustice. Jerusalem will be destroyed as a consequence. Every unjust act, every sin has consequences that cannot be waived away.

Two criminals accompany Jesus to Calvary, the place of execution just outside the city gates where many people passed. For the Romans it was the perfect place to display their fierce justice. Jesus would die at this hellish place of torture and death, not a place one wished to be or to see.

Yet Luke, like the other evangelists, sees light in this place of death. Instead of harsh justice, suffering and death, God’s mercy and new life are revealed here: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God’ mercy is revealed here to a criminal crucified with Jesus. Another criminal mocks him from his  cross. “Are you not the Messiah. Save yourself and us.” But his companion rebukes him and turns to Jesus with a plea to be remembered. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

More than a remembrance, Jesus promises to take him with him on his journey to God. “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” As he does so often in Luke’s gospel,  Jesus reaches in tender mercy to one without hope.

Like Simon of Cyrene, the thief represents humanity. He’s been promised life and safe passage through the mystery of death. He dies with Jesus. The thief reminds us that eternal life is never denied to anyone.

The thief is a sign for us all. We die, but we die with the Lord. The best place for us to understand the mystery of death is on Calvary.

Christ, the King

Christ majesty chartre
Luke’s gospel for the Feast of Christ the King presents Jesus, not in a royal palace, but on a dark desolate hill. He’s not surrounded by cheering crowds, but by people cursing his name. He has no crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. His robe lies torn from him, heaped on the ground soaked in his blood. His throne is a cross, and over the cross is the inscription: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

We are tempted to see not power but failure here. But listen to the gospel. One of the criminals calls out to the wretched figure hanging next to him: “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” And power goes out from him. “This day you will be with me in paradise.

The thief is an interesting figure in the gospel. He has no name, nothing is known of his life or his crime. There he is, desperate, thinking all is gone. Powerless, no one would take a chance on him. Who would bother with him? Who would come close to him? Only a God who in the person of Jesus Christ would come so low as to share a cross with him.

The thief has no name. Christian tradition says he bears everyone’s name. In the thief we see ourselves, our desperate, poor, powerless selves. Yes, that is how much Christ loves us. He will always be close to us.

And Don’t Look Ahead

Strange thing to say, isn’t it? We want to see what’s ahead. But in Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem–which we read from this Sunday– Jesus warns his disciples as he nears the Holy City to be wary about what they see coming.

First, some disciples like James and John thought the journey would bring about the kingdom of God on earth and they wanted a big place in it. Their dream didn’t come true. Then, other disciples as they entered the city saw the temple itself, “adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,” and believed something so beautiful would go on forever. They were wrong too.

Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

We have to be wary of messianic claims from those who claim to know the future. “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,” and “The time had come.’ Do not follow them!” Jesus says. The future is in God’s hands, not in ours.

The journey Jesus makes does not end in Jerusalem, according to Luke, it’s completed in his resurrection, and that will surprise us. Luke’s account of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem offers the surprising promise he makes to the thief crucified on his right, whose only hope is in him. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

That’s the future we trust in.

The Passion According to Luke

DSC00234

Last night at the mission in St. Augustine Church, Ocean City, NJ,  I read from St. Luke’s Passion narrative. (Luke 22, 26-49) Luke sees Jesus beginning his journey back to God from Galilee. After his condemnation by Pilate he goes to his death on Calvary, but his journey does not end here; it ends when he ascends into heaven.

Jesus did not make the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem  alone; he gathered disciples to accompany him. Now, as he goes to Calvary, he does not go alone into the mystery of death.  Simon of Cyrene and a large crowd of people including “many women who mourned and lamented him” go with him.

Luke notes that “after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” Simon, like all the other followers of Jesus, must be part of his journey. He must take up his cross and follow him, a theme emphasized in Luke’s gospel.

Jesus’ words to the women “who mourned and lamented him” are puzzling. Some say he offers them comfort, even as he goes to his death. But other commentators  see his words as a prophetic announcement of the judgment that must inevitably come from such an injustice as his condemnation and death. The great city Jerusalem will be destroyed as a consequence. He tells us every unjust act, every sin has consequences that cannot be waived away.

Two criminals accompany Jesus to Calvary, the place of execution just outside the Jerusalem city gates where so many people passed. The Romans saw it as an ideal place to display their fierce justice. Jesus would die at this hellish place of torture and death. Not a place one wished to be or to see.

Luke, like the other evangelists, sees this place of death in another light. Instead of harsh justice, injustice and death, Jesus offers forgiveness and new life here: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Here God is revealed, who does not just forgive but brings new life. The two criminals crucified with Jesus reveal God’s power at work.  One criminal mocks Jesus on the opposite cross. “Are you not the Messiah. Save yourself and us.” The other rebukes him and turns to Jesus with a plea to be remembered.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

More than simply remembering him, Jesus promises to take him on his journey to God. “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” As he did so often, in tender mercy Jesus reaches to one without hope.

Like Simon of Cyrene, the thief symbolizes humanity. He’s been promised life and safe passage through the mystery of death. He dies with Jesus. He’s the first, a reminder that eternal life is never denied to anyone.

The thief is a powerful sign of the promise made to us all. We will die, but we die with the Lord.