Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)
In approaching our passage, I find myself praying, “Lord, please do not let me just read this and move on to my toast and orange juice. This content cannot remain just an idea or a historical fact to me. My hope and the hope of all men hinge upon this scene. Open my heart. Breathe into me its inspiration, its instruction, its rebuke.”
My mind, as it often does, connects with other passages of scripture or, more often than not, with an experience from scripture, which I have to look up. I am thinking of Paul, who was absent from both the Colossians and the Corinthians, yet claimed to be there with them in spirit. Had Paul’s understanding about time and space been altered in Christ? In asking this, I feel as innocent as a child with his imagination intact. I sense God’s approval.
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
I am rejecting the idea that Paul had time-travel powers that I don’t. I am also rejecting the idea that in the spirit means something like: in a particular attitude. No, I believe Paul was with the believers in those two cities in an actual yet mysterious way. He knew the Body of Christ was an eternal living thing with many parts. What is time to eternity anyway? I believe Paul’s revelations had loosened the bonds of materialistic logic on his reasoning. He had grasped the spiritual nature of his being and ours. This is why I am free to ask, “Where am I in this Crucifixion scene?”
Am I the criminal on the left or the one on the right? Am I the soldier with the hammer and pin? The one casting lots? Am I an onlooker, come for the show? Did I yell, “Crucify him?” I am recalling the teaching of scripture: men are either in Adam or in Christ. I can claim my innocence based upon my absence but, in Adam, I was possessed by every evil motive playing out at Golgotha. So, I acknowledge:
“Lord, I would like to think that, with Peter, I would have been prepared to die with you, but I know better. I am made of the same stuff as him. I denied you too. I was also the thief, in pain, insanely hurling abuse at you: “Are you not God? Will you not do something!” (In my own whitewashed way, I have done this even recently.) I was also there casting lots—hoping to gain a little something out of this Christianity thing. I was also there looking on, at a safe distance so as not be confused as one of your disciples. And, in my heart I have both mocked you and sneered at you. I, as much as any human monster, need you.”
The mystery gets even deeper…
I was also the thief on the cross, whose insanity was overtaken by grace, enabling him to acknowledge divine justice, to see Jesus’ righteousness and his divinity. I was there, hearing myself take ownership of my sin and, having no one else who can save me, asking, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
Jesus, heard my cry and not only promised to remember me in Paradise, but he folded me into himself—the redemptive Mystery of the ages. He transferred me into the kingdom of his beloved Son. He gave me the right to become his child. He grafted me into the Vine, who is Jesus, and promised me that nothing will ever, ever, ever, separate me from his love. Death (in its truest spiritual sense) has been abolished. When did he do this? He did it before time. He’s doing it now and will be doing it forevermore. Truly, “It is finished!” I was in Adam; I am now in Christ.
Father, how can it be that such wonderful providence has overtaken me? I have been caught up (with you) into the middle of a blessed Mystery. Amen.