“Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise,“ Jesus responds to the criminal beside Him, poignantly directing our attention to the criminal himself… to know him and identify with him.
The criminal beside Jesus was able to see Him, to know Him. While the masses mocked and jeered, numb and blind to their own invisible crosses, their own inescapable, imperfect, sinful nature rendering them capable of participating in stoning, scourging, and crucifying ….While the masses mocked as they watched with hearts of stone the most brutal suffering inflicted on an innocent…The criminal, intimately tied to his own cross, knew Him as Lord, Christ, the Annointed One. The other criminal, however, also tied to his own cross, joined the mocking crowd with challenges to prove Himself, his Holy power, by saving Himself and, of course, by saving them both as well.
Let us now listen with our hearts to the rebuke of the criminal who knew him as Lord: “Don’t you fear God? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did.” His attention turned away from saving his body to saving his soul. He turned his attention away from escaping his darkest hour in pride and instead moved toward Jesus in his darkest hour in humble active surrender. Hanging from his cross, I imagine the criminal’s heart so filled with his weakness, emptied of all his defenses, justifications, lamentations for himself and his nature that his heart was able to soak in the awe of Jesus Christ crucified, the fear of God, the love of God, and set his intention on something beyond himself….pure holiness…attained in relationship with Christ himself.
Hear now what he says to Jesus directly, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” From the cross Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus is speaking to us all, in His darkest hours, the way to an intimate relationship with Him where He will take us to Paradise.
The way is illuminated in the contrasts between the other criminal asking to be taken from the cross and the one asking to be remembered….a request suggestive of an intimacy already formed. For he knew Him as Lord, Christ, the Annointed One. He knew him not by a shared history, by relation, nor by intellect, human wisdom or a pious practice. He knew Him through the lens of his contrite heart as he sat in stark awareness of his sin, his weakness, his ineptitude…that is, our human nature. He knew Him with his broken repentent heart which does not ask for proof or to be taken down from the cross but, rather, cries out:
“Don’t you fear God? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did.”“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I imagine this criminal so emptied of self he could BE WITH Jesus on the cross, God, and the Holy Spirit…. and tremble in the light of His presence, His Life giving love, His Mercy. Yes, I see him trembling in deep reverent fear as he testifies his guilt to Jesus and asks only to be remembered…not even capable of imagining he could be saved…just to be held, possibly for the briefest of moments, in memory as Jesus entered into His Kingdom. Imagine the shock to his entire worldview when he heard, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
We all want to be remembered don’t we? We want man and God to remember some of the good things we did while we walked this earth. This moment says, to me, however, that it is NOT in OUR good works that we should seek to be remembered, but in works we do through Him to help others remember God’s Glory which is sewn in all our hearts.
Think for a moment of those people you have met who remind you of God’s grace, those people who open the deepest well within you, quenching a thirst you may have become unaware of in the busysess or strife of your life.
It is in our emptying ourselves of our works, our busyness, our desires, our pride, our reputations…. to Him that others remember God and come to faith, bringing change beyond our imaginations. It is in surrendering to His alter our contrite heart….and not just at our literal death, as the criminal………but NOW and DAILY. We need to be crucified DAILY by Him, for Him, and resurrected in life. In our surrender we receive His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness….and drink from the well where we never thirst again.
May we all empty ourselves of defense and self-lamentations, go into the well of our deepest sorrows and pick up our crosses, soak in the awe of Jesus Christ crucified…and hear “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Today, Now. Transformed and renamed, soaking in the Grace of God. As Paul said, when we know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and come to Him in weakness with great fear and trembling, we are filled with the Spirit’s power…God’s power. This is paradise…where all hate is conquered and life is pierced open. This is the real thing, The Divine living in us. Walking in the Holy Spirit. This is faith. So let us turn our attention away from sleep or escaping our darkest hour in pride and, instead, move toward the Beloved in our darkest hour in humble active surrender and hear, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”