The gospel account of the thief who was crucified together with Jesus amazes us because here is a person who spent his life committing crimes against the 7th Commandment – “Thou Shalt not Steal” became the first canonized saint in the history of Christianity. He was canonized by Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Son of God, the Creator and King of the Universe. From a life of thievery, banditry, of stealing things owned and worked for by other people, he in effect stole a much more valuable good: heaven itself, at his dying moment.
The first word uttered by our Lord while He was hanging on the cross, is a word of forgiveness for those who committed offenses against Him, those who condemned Him to death, those who bore false witness against Him, those who scourged Him and caused lacerations and wounds on His sacred Body, those who spat upon and ridiculed Him and put a crown of thorns on His head, those who nailed Him mercilessly on the cross after painfully carrying it on His wounded shoulders where He was to hang in agony for several hours until His death.
And while he hang in agony, with both hands and feet nailed to the cross, gasping for breath, He could still utter, in pain, those words of forgiveness to His persecutors who jeered at Him and reviled Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
The two criminals crucified to the left and right of Jesus both committed evil acts against people, but one of them acknowledged his crimes and asked Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Probably he expected Jesus to grant his request, but was probably even more surprised when he received not only a favorable reply but being granted it with strong assurance that it would happen that very same day when Jesus declared: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
We can perhaps say: It is good to be true. How can one be forgiven of sins and be brought immediately – TODAY -- to the kingdom of God, which is a heavenly kingdom.
The answer is clear: God want us to recognize ourselves in the Good Thief. He wants us to know that even with our sins, which are a violation of His saving plan, of His commandments, a rejection of His loving order for our lives, we can still be forgiven for as long as we repent and cry out, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.”
Our Lord is aware of our sinfulness, of our weakness, of our struggle with the forces that make us choose evil over good, our own pleasures over Him, and our tendency to fall over and over again. That is why in His mercy He gave us the means to reconcile with Him in the sacrament of penance where we in effect are saying: “Jesus, remember me now that You are in Your kingdom” and be assured of His forgiveness and of finally being brought to His heavenly kingdom.
And so, when we are grappling with sin, we must not be disheartened, lose faith and give up. We just need to do what the good thief did: to ask for grace, which the Lord said is sufficient for us (2Cor 12:9). “For though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
The second word of Jesus on the cross offers a message of hope: that despite our sins we can hope for heaven because Christ the Incarnate Son came precisely to bring us there. God acts first in our lives. It is He who calls us first. It is a call to holiness, to have faith in God’s mercy and goodness because He wants us to bring us home, to His kingdom. It is a call that that we cannot but heed.
The great assurance that Good Friday brings to our Christian world is that Jesus always turns back to us and says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
With this response Jesus gives the firm hope that God’s goodness can touch us, even at the very last moment of life, and that sincere prayer, even after a wrong life, encounters the open arms of the Good Father who awaits the return of His son.
There are many stories of conversion and repentance in the lives of people:
King David who committed adultery and murder. He composed Psalm 51 where he expressed his appeal for mercy in the following words:
"Take pity on me, Lord, in your mercy; in your abundance of mercy wipe out my guilt. Wash me ever more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.”
St. Augustine himself who led a sinful life but was converted through the prayers of her mother
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League,who personally aborted 75,000 babies was converted and became a pro-life advocate, as did many former workers in abortion clinics
There are many more, including us.
The grace, forgiveness and mercy offered to a hardened criminal on Golgotha are there for us, too. All we have to do is to admit our own wretchedness, look at Jesus on the cross and ask Him to remember us in our own misery, sadness and solitude. “A broken and contrite heart God will not spurn.” Psalm 51:17
As the good thief called on Jesus, we also should call on Him, to have a personal relationship with Him, at all moments in our lives, putting Him at its very center, calling Him to always remember us to bring us to His kingdom. And Jesus will respond to us, too: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”#
Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me by suffering and dying for me. Thank you for always forgiving me when I fall. Give me the grace to always rise up from my failures and to call on you everyday: “Remember me” so that in the end You will say to me: “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”#