It’s Never Too Late
39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
On this holiest of days, we recognize the intense reality of Jesus’ loving innocence and our failed humanness. Matthew and Mark speak of the “two bandits, one on his right and one on his left” and John notes, “There, they crucified him and with him two others, one on either side….” But Luke goes into a deeper story, bringing out his theme once again of highlighting the downtrodden, the forgotten, and reminding his readers that redemption is available for all, even the convicted criminals crucified beside Jesus.
In Luke’s text, it’s rather easy to overlook the first criminal’s words because, after all, he is just reiterating the sentiments of all those we already despise; the leaders and scoffers who saw Jesus as a major threat to their power and status and wanted him erased. But…it’s also easy to identify with the second criminal because, after all, we love a Hollywood ending where the initially evil person sees the error of their ways and gets a second chance.
As reread this story, I notice how quickly I want to align myself with the second criminal and cheer for Team Jesus. But in the quiet, I suddenly realize, sadly, how much I am also very much like the first criminal. He is, as scholar Alan Culpepper says, “the bitter cynic who taunts the Savior who is just a few feet away.” We may not see ourselves taunting Jesus but we sure test Jesus and ask him to prove his power and love before we acknowledge our own guilt.
Today, I want to see myself more deeply desiring to be like the second criminal; a contrite advocate who defends Jesus, acknowledges my sins and my just punishment before I ask for one more chance. Today is the day that we again make a choice between resistance or submission. Don’t let the cross of love AND forgiveness be for everyone else but you. Amen