Worth Revisiting: The Thief on the Cross

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In reading the passages from Luke today on the way of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus, (Lk 23: 26-49) I was struck with gratitude for the thief on the cross beside Christ. Mocked, insulted and shamed- Jesus endured not only the painful, sorrowful physical pain of the cross but rejection of the people that he loved and came to save. There were those like Simeon, Veronica and of course his mother Mary who were present along the way of the cross to offer strength, tenderness, and comfort. Yet, it was the unexpected conversion of the thief that was there beside Christ in those last moments. His witness of faith is to me a gift to our Savior, a beautiful reminder of the redeeming potential of mankind.

Over the years, I have heard many scoff at the thief on the cross, as I am sure they would have done in his day. “So sad to see how his life turned out, he was brought up in the faith you know. I heard he asked the priest to come at the end…guess that is between him and God.” Yes,  and still this holds true for each and every one of us. One glimpse at the story at the woman to be stoned and the heaviness of the stone in our hands, the weight of our sins, should remind us of the profound unmerited gift of salvation.

So what differentiated the thief on the cross and the other criminal hanging there? Awareness and Repentance.

First, the thief on the cross was attentive to who he believed Jesus to be- in light of an intimate unique relationship to God. Saying to the other criminal beside him, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” (Lk 23:40) Here too, the thief acknowledges his own sin, unworthiness, and deserved punishment. In the considered opinion of the world, there was no redemption, no more chances, this was the end. Yet, the thief also confesses an understanding that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world and a new desire to belong to Christ. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)

Wait..there was still hope? Was it truly possible to trade the consequences for his decisions, the weight of his shame for a place in God’s kingdom that very day? And, “He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”(Lk 23:43) The beauty of Christ’s victory over death reminds us of the ever present reality of the eternal promise of life.  Yet, as God’s divine love and mercy are always more than we could ever conceive, gratefully we are reminded that God has yet to give up on any of us. So, to the thief on the cross I would like to say thank you.

“Thank you for witnessing that not one spiritual journey is ever the same. Called to conversion, continually, we are a people always in need of a Savior. Though in mankind’s eyes your profession of faith might be considered last minute… it is in truth timeless. It is truly a graced beneficiary of the unrestrained and limitless love of a Father- who time has no hold upon.”

Peace,

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5 thoughts on “Worth Revisiting: The Thief on the Cross

  1. ‘What mseagrif said.’ A good look at the repentant thief. What finally jumped out at me, years back, and still does, is what gets translated as a conjunction in my language.

    In Luke 23:42, the thief does not say “if:” That might seem reasonable, under the circumstances. Instead, the conjunction is “WHEN.” That is remarkable faith, perhaps helped by realizing just who – and what – was being executed with him. It’s among my favorite bits of the Bible.

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  2. This is an excellent post. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a song, and while beautiful it was also somewhat sad. I couldn’t believe that the name of this song was “Jesus, Remember Me.” The same words that the thief said on the cross!

    What always made me thankful (and always brought me to tears), was that here was this thief who was about to die, and while others were mocking him, he fully understood why he was there, and why Jesus should not be. Instead of joining the others, and being bitter about his fate, he asked Jesus remember him.

    The thief has made choices in life that got him crucified in the first place and instead of being angry about it, he fully accepted his lot. I wonder how many of us, when we knowingly sin, or have done something that we should not have done, don’t accept our actions, but blame others, or worse yet, blame God for that choice.

    Thank you for this, as I have been thinking about for a while.

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    1. Kalley, so absolutely true! In ministry I encounter both those who cannot take responsibility for their actions as well as those who bear all of the responsibility and cannot see the love and mercy that awaits. Much like the thief on the cross, the answer lies somewhere in between. Again thank you Kalley for your well articulated thoughts on the thief and our role in salvation.

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