One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
On the cross, Jesus is confronted with the same temptation he met in the wilderness. ‘Save yourself. If you are so special, save yourself.’ In the desert, Jesus quotes the
Scripture ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Matthew 4:7) On the cross, he does not respond. Another speaks for him.
The second man doesn’t need to speak. He is going to die. He is dying. The pain of the cross is tearing him apart as the conversation is taking is taking place, but he confesses. ‘We are rightly condemned.’ He confesses to the justice of his own punishment and to the injustice put upon Jesus.
He confesses his sin and seeks the mercy, the same mercy offered only moments before by Jesus to his killers. Remember me. I am a person. Remember me. And with that we have the second word of Jesus, the most confusing and eschatological word. ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.’
Paradise? really? But he is a killer and a thief, why would you want him there. Is paradise heaven? You didn’t speak much of paradise before now, Jesus, what changed?
Confession. Repentance. Hope, all among the agony of the cross. There is no limit to mercy. There is no line beyond which we cease to be human, cease to be created in the image of God, cease to be loved. In lent, we must remember this hard truth. As well, we should not wait until the nails have been driven into our wrists. We must turn now. We must rend our garments, wash ourselves clean, offer ourselves openly, and receive the mercy we do not deserve but which we are still given by the one who did not deserve to die but who still suffered death for our sake so that all might live.