THE TWENTIETH DAY OF LENT
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept mocking Jesus and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked the other criminal, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43
Luke, differing from the other Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, speaks of the penitent thief. I find it serves the purpose of teaching of a Higher Justice that supersedes a lower form of justice. While the lower form of justice ends in punishment, the Higher form of Justice ends in restoration. It is fair that a convicted thief receives the same destiny as Christ? By certain worldly standards, this seems unfair; but by the standards of the “Justice Christianus”, it is the wish and the way of the Lord. Jesus forgives the penitent thief. And by the intentional use of the word “paradise”, a word rarely used except in reference to the Garden of Eden. Christ restores the thief to a state of innocence. As contrary as it seems to our mortal sensibilities, Christ lifts him out of the realm of guilt and returns him to the realm of innocence.
It is an emphasis of Luke the writer … this transforming of the guilty into the innocent. It is how Luke refers to Paul … a once zealous persecutor of the church transformed into a pastor of the church.
This is a lesson we in Christ need to take to heart. When we forgive as the Lord has commanded to forgive, we are not to hold as the forgiven in a state of suspended guilt, but rather to restore them to a state of innocence, allowing them to begin again as if in Eden. “Behold, I make all things new!” I believe this proclamation might be inscribed on the wall of the Lord’s Heavenly Court of Justice. Yes, indeed, “Behold, I make all things new!”
Always in Christ’s Service,
Fr. Charitas de la Cruz