Two criminals, guilty and deserving of death, hang beside Jesus. When one mocks and blasphemes our Lord, the other rebukes him responding, “Do you not even fear God?”
He continues, admitting their guilt and the justness of their punishment, and recognizing that “this Man has done nothing wrong.” More amazingly, he recognizes Christ as the Messiah and King when he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
We cannot know the reasons for this remarkable change of heart. Perhaps he was moved by Jesus’ patient suffering, or his request for forgiveness for his tormentors. This man was a career criminal, no follower of Jesus, and had done nothing to merit salvation. But Jesus answers, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” and God’s forgiveness is immediate, and with it the assurance of eternal life.
Every word Jesus speaks in Scripture is important and significant, but none more than these. He teaches us to believe that the mercy of God is always ready to reach out to save a soul, and to generously open the door to heaven to those who repent. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matt 7:7. God’s goal from before creation has been to be with us, and for us to be with Him; this is our destiny as Christians. God’s love exceeds anything we can imagine and His mercy embraces and heals us, if only we ask, as the dying thief does. God’s great and perfect love requires a response: to love Him and each other, and to forgive as He forgives.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to forgive those who hurt us, just as it can be hard to believe that God can forgive us. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Real belief in forgiveness is the sort of thing that easily slips away if we don’t keep polishing it up.” Lent is the perfect time for “polishing,” as we reflect on Jesus’ dying words.
Look on me, Lord Jesus Christ, as You looked on the thief on his cross, and on every sinner whom You have ever forgiven. Call me from darkness to my Father’s house; give me a new heart and a place at Your side at the banquet of Your kingdom. Amen
From the Columban Fathers