Today’s Gospel chosen presents Jesus as reigning from the cross. Nothing could be more paradoxical. Let’s look at it from four perspectives:
I. Vision – Today’s Gospel presents a vision or image of the Church. We like to think of more pleasant images: the Church is the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ. Today’s image is more humbling to be sure: the Church is Christ, crucified between two thieves.
Yes, this is the Church too. In a way, we are all thieves. We are all sinners and have used the gifts and things that belong to God in a way contrary to His will. To misuse things that belong to others is a form of theft.
Consider some of the things we claim as our own and how easily we misuse them: our bodies, our time, our talents, our money, the gift of our speech, and the gift of our freedom. We call them ours but they really belong to God, and if we use them in ways contrary to His intention we are guilty of a form of theft.
II. Variance – Consider, also, that the two thieves were very different. In the Church we have saints and sinners, and in the world there are those who will turn to Christ and be saved and others who will turn away and be lost.
- One thief (the “bad thief”) derides Jesus and makes demands of Him. Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! The text says that this thief “reviles” Jesus, treating him with contempt.
- The other thief (the “good thief”) reverences Christ and rebukes the other, saying, Have you no fear of God? The good thief recognizes his guilt: We have been condemned justly. He asks, Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom, but he leaves the terms of it up to Christ. He acknowledges that he is a thief and now places his life under the authority of Christ the King.
Christ came to call sinners—thieves, if you will. Yes, we are all thieves, but pray God that we are the good thief, the repentant thief, the thief who is now ready to submit himself to the authority of Christ, who is King of all creation.
Heaven is a real steal, something we don’t deserve; it is only accessed through repentance and faith. The bad thief wants relief but will not open the door of his heart so that Jesus can save him. Mercy is offered and available to him, but it is accessed only through repentance and faith. The good thief does open the door of his heart and thereby is saved.
III. Veracity – Is Christ really your king? A King has authority, so another way of posing this question is, “Does Christ have authority in your life?” Consider whether you acknowledge that everything you call your own really belongs to God and think about how well you use those gifts.
- How do you use our time?
- Are you committed to pray and to attend Mass every Sunday without fail?
- Do you use enough of your time to serve God and others, or merely for selfish pursuits?
- Do you use the gift of your speech to witness and evangelize, or merely for small talk and gossip?
- Do you exhibit proper care for your body?
- Are you chaste?
- Do you observe proper safety or are you sometimes reckless?
- Do you reverence life?
- Are you faithful to the Lord’s command to tithe?
- Do you spend wisely?
- Do you pay your debts in a timely way?
- Are you generous enough to the poor and needy?
- Do you love the poor and help them to sustain their lives?
It is one thing to call Christ our King, but it is another to be truly under His authority. The Lord is clear enough in telling us that he expects our obedience: Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” but do not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46)
Is Christ your King? Which thief are you, really?
IV. Victory – The thief who asked Jesus to remember him manifested repentance, faith, and a kind of baptism of desire. In so doing, he moved into the victor’s column. Jesus’s words, Today you shall be with me in paradise, indicate a dramatic shift in the thief’s fortunes.
To be with Jesus—wherever He is—is paradise and victory. Soon enough, the heavens will be opened, but the victory is now and paradise begins now.
Thus the good thief claims the victory through his choice for Jesus Christ. Will you have the victory? That depends on whether you choose the prince of this world or the King of the Universe, Jesus. Some think that they can tread some middle path, choosing neither Jesus nor Satan. But if you do that, you’ve actually 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. I pray that he will truly be my King in all things and that my choice will be more than mere lip service. Come, Jesus, reign in my heart. Let me begin to experience victory and paradise, even now!