Oddly enough, with Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, I find myself thinking about the people, places, and events of Easter—specifically, the “two others” (as one Bible translation calls them) that were crucified on either side of Jesus.
What did they do to deserve the most excruciatingly painful, humiliating, degrading, torturous and cruelest punishment ever devised? Who were they? Did they know each other beforehand? Were they partners in crime? Did they have family members standing at the foot of their cross? If so, were those beloveds grieving, cheering or something else? What were their professions, or did they even have one before they became “evil doers” (another translation’s interpretation)? What led them to the choices they made that culminated with them nailed to the stake?
In the books of Matthew and Mark, these men were referred to as “robbers” and both men joined in assaulting Jesus with insults. However, in the book of Luke only one of these two “criminals” verbally accosted Christ while the other “rebuked the first” saying “Ours is only fair; we’re getting what we deserve for what we did. This man has done nothing wrong.” The second man, it appears, had a change of heart. Why?
Had he seen or heard Jesus speak, perhaps at the Temple or on a hillside? Was it the sign hanging over Jesus’s head? Could he even read “This is the King of the Jews?” Was he familiar with the Passover story? Had he ever participated in a Pesach Seder? I think perhaps the eyes of his heart were opened when he heard the first man say to Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”—his heart burned within him as he asked “remember me when you become King.”
Jesus, who had a habit of being in the right place at the right time, received this dying man’s plea and confession of faith. With all the love his breathless voice could muster, he spoke “Yes, I promise you will be with me today in paradise.” I can only imagine the utter relief, deep peace, complete gratitude and overwhelming joy and love that flooded the redeemed criminal’s heart and soul.
“In my defenselessness, my safety lies” is a teaching my cousin often quotes to me. I cannot defend all the infinite missteps I take in one day—some bigger than others (as a recent occurrence has pointed out). I can only seek forgiveness. My pastor said: “Defenselessness is strength. It testifies to recognition of the Christ in you.”
“Ah ne’er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.
(Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism, Part II, 1711)
Of this—forgiveness—is what I am and will be grateful for as the upcoming Holy Days commence. Thanks be to God.