A reflection upon words of hope from the cross …
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, 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.”
Truly, I tell you,” or, rephrased, “I tell you the truth.”
Jesus has only recently concluded a blunt exchange with Pilate in which he claimed his role in testifying to the truth, to which Pilate responded: “What is truth?”
A good question.
Truth, at this moment for Jesus, is weakness, agonising pain, shame and imminent death.
And, apparently, a promise of hope.
How does he do it?
How does he pluck the light of hope from the gathering gloom that hangs over him and over his surroundings?
Let’s not diminish the importance of hope.
Without hope where do we end up?
We end up knotted by ropes of fear that we wrap around ourselves.
We terrorise ourselves about what might be around corners – not just physical corners, but the ones of our lives.
We are afraid of anything beyond our line of sight or understanding.
Hope is our human entitlement as children of God – a free gift from God.
Yet humanity – as recounted in the underlying meaning of the fall of Adam and Eve – has tried to claim ownership of hope, over many years, to create a kind of list of tariffs for hope, and not just in the mediaeval system of indulgences; a sort of price list for heaven.
But we can’t buy our way into paradise by being purchasers and sellers of hope.
A thief places himself outside of the tariff list for hope and simply asks Jesus for forgiveness. And receives it.
A cynic might observe that with nothing left to lose, the thief might as well turn to Jesus as a sort of last-minute insurance policy. But don’t go there!
The very thought suggests that we frame our own thinking in those terms.
Do we have to wait until we have nothing left to lose to turn to Jesus for hope?
In the end, God sees through all of that sort of nonsense.
God knows the sort of games that we play, including the insurance policy one.
The irony about this exchange is that the thief, simply by making the request, “Remember me in your kingdom,” tears up the insurance policy, because he places himself already in Christ’s kingdom.
Jesus might have said, despite appearances to the contrary, “You already are in my kingdom.”
That is truth.