The Gospel chosen for today’s feast presents Jesus as reigning from the cross. Nothing could be more paradoxical. Perhaps we can look at this Gospel and feast from four perspectives:
I. Vision - In the Gospel for today’s feast we have vision or an image for the Church. We like to think of more pleasant images such as the Church being the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ. Today’s image is less exalted and more humbling to be sure, but it is an image just the same: The Image of the Church is Christ, crucified between two thieves.
Yes, this is the Church too. Somehow we are all thieves. The fact is, we are all sinners and we have all used the gifts and things that belong to God in a way that is contrary to his will. To misuse things that belong to others is a form of theft and we are thus thieves for we have all misused what belongs to God.
Consider some of the things we claim as our own and how easily we misuse them: Our bodies, our time, our talents, our money, our gift of speech, our gift of freedom and so forth. We call them ours but they really belong to God and if we use them in ways contrary to the intention of the owner we are guilty of a form of theft.
So the Church is Christ, crucified between two thieves.
II. Variance - But consider also that these two thieves were very different; even as in the Church we have saints and sinners, and in the world there are those who will turn to Christ and be saved and those who will turn away and be lost.
- One thief derides Jesus and makes demands of him: – Are you not the Christ! Save yourself and us! The text says this thief “reviles” Jesus. To revile means to speak against another with contempt and to treat some one as vile, or loathsome.
- The other thief reverences Christ and rebukes the other saying, – Have you no fear of God? This thief recognizes his guilt – We have been condemned justly. And he requests – Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. But he leaves the terms of it up to Christ. He acknowledges he is a thief and now places his life under the authority of Christ the King.
So here are two different men. Christ came to call sinners, thieves, if you will. Yes, we are all thieves, that is true. But pray God we are the good thief, the repentant thief, The one thief who is now ready to resubmit himself to the authority of Christ, who is King of all creation, and King of us thieves.
Now heaven is a real steal, something we don’t deserve. But it is only accessed through repentance and faith. The bad thief wants relief but will not open the door of his heart by repentance and faith so that Jesus can save him. Mercy is offered and available there right next to him, but it is accessed through repentance and faith. He does not open the door, but the good thief does and thereby will be saved.
III. Veracity - But is Christ really your king? Well a King has authority. So another way of asking is, “Does Christ have authority in your life? Do you and I acknowledge that everything we call our own really belongs to Him? How well do we use the things that we call our own but which really belong to God?”
- How do we use our time?
- Are we committed to pray and be at Mass every Sunday without fail?
- Do we use enough of our time to serve God and others or merely for selfish pursuits?
- What of our capacity to talk?
- Do we use our gift of speech to witness, to evangelize, or merely for small talk and gossip?
- What of our money?
- Are we faithful to the Lord’s command to tithe? (Mal 3:7-12; Matt 23:23).
- Are we generous enough to the poor and needy?
- Do we spend wisely or foolishly?
- Do we pay our debts in a timely way?
- What of our bodies?
- Do we exhibit proper care and nutrition of them?
- Are we chaste?
- Do we observe proper safety or are we reckless and unsafe?
- Do we reverence life?
- Do we love the poor and help sustain their lives?
Well you get the point. It is one thing to call Christ our King, it is another to truly be under his authority. The Lord is clear enough in telling us that he expects our obedience: Why do you call me Lord Lord and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46)
Is Christ your King? Which thief are you, really?
IV. Victory - The thief who asks Jesus to remember him manifests a kind of baptism of desire as well as repentance and faith. As such he moved straight-way in the victor’s column. Jesus words, Today you shall be with me in paradise indicate a dramatic and sudden shift for the thief. In other words Jesus says, Your faith has saved you. As of this moment you are now at my side, and I am your saving Lord.
Now to be with Jesus, wherever He is, is paradise and victory. Soon enough the heavens will be opened as well, but the victory is now, and paradise begins now.
And thus he claims the victory through his choice for Jesus Christ. Will you have the victory? Well, that depends on if you choose the prince of the world, or the King of the Universe, Jesus.
Some think they can choose neither Jesus nor Satan, but tred some middle way. Well if that’s your choice, I’ve got news for you, you’ve chosen the prince of this world, who loves compromise. Jesus says, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Matt 12:30)
As for me, I’ve decided to make Jesus my choice. Now I pray that he will truly be my King in all things and that my choice will be more than lip service. Come Jesus reign in my heart! Let me begin to experience victory and paradise even now!