This is the second in a series of posts on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.
Today you will be with me in Paradise.
PUT YOURSELF ON THE CROSS next to Jesus there. We want to imagine our self as, perhaps, “The Wise Thief” and we impart all virtue to him and pray we can be like him. The Byzantine Liturgy has a hymn called an Exapostalarian sung on Good Friday, “The Wise Thief, thou didst make worthy of paradise in a single moment,” but put yourself in the theif’s place. I mean really.
When you’re honest with yourself, do you recognize your sinfulness? I mean really honest with yourself. I don’t mean, right now, while you’re reading these words but rather, over all the course of your life, are you honestly aware of all the missteps? And, perhaps, if you are like me, you not only have “missteps” but outright rejections or even betrayals that weigh on your mind, your heart. Do you lay awake at night and say, “What was I thinking?” Are there times when you point at your misspent youth and chuckle and say “Wow, I was a fool.” But then other times you wonder, “Did I break everything then? Was I such a fool that that can’t be fixed”
We might look at ourselves in the mirror of our lives and see, in the past, was I so in the employ of darkness that even now I cannot enter the light.
And Jesus whispers to us, “Today you shall be with me.”
Imagine hearing these words – entirely unexpectedly – after having said, “I deserve this.” That’s exactly what the Thief said, “I totally messed up and I deserve this crucifixion. I deserve this public humiliation. I deserve this pain. I deserve this blood. This suffocation.” So, the thief knows exactly the kind of man he is. “Today…”
Is there doubt now? For knowing who you are, what you are, what you were in the past, what you may even now crave to still be… of course there is doubt.
CS Lewis puts this doubt even into Narnian Paradise where a dead Calormene soldier (the “bad guys”) finds himself in the Heavenly garden at the end of The Last Battle. I don’t want to unpack the theology because there is a controversy that is not the point of this essay, but – even standing in Paradise – the Wise Calormene doubts he should be there.
Is that you? It’s me.
How can this God who knows not only everything I ever did – or even ever will do, who knows how I rejected him, blasphemed him, denied him in public (and in private); how can this God whose very pains, wounds, suffocation, and bleeding were, in ways I cannot understand, caused by my actions say to me, “Today.”
This is the cost of love: not Jesus’ pains, but you letting go of your doubt. That is the cost of Love. If you love Jesus, it’s ok to be honest about yesterday but also to let go of your doubts about today.
Trust is such a hard thing to gain, but even harder to extend. We sort of want a vengeful God. We want him to be judgy and spiteful. Of course we usually want that directed at others, at our enemies, but in our more self-reflective moments that same vengeful and spiteful God should be directed at us, right? For, in the first person, if anyone deserves that treatment it’s me.
When the Wise Thief heard the word today what did he think? Did he leaned back and relax on the wood of his cross? I doubt that. The nails were still as painful the air still as hard to grasp in lungs constricted by crucifixion. Did he suddenly wonder if he was crucified next to a crazy man? Paradise in the middle of all of this? Scripture doesn’t say. We should not interpolate.
But for me, for you, we have both heard the word today, just now. And like the thief we have the rest of our lives before us to contemplate what that means.
Denial of the reality can sound like we’re being spiritually mature. We can make a “humble brag” and say something pious like Domine, non sum dignus as we thumb our chests. But God wants to move us one step further along. It’s not enough to be aware of your sins, to know that you deserve what’s coming to you. When Jesus prayed, a moment ago, “Father, forgive them.” He included you.
And now he offers you Paradise.
Not pie in the sky by and by when you die. But Today. We see heaven each time we see Mass. We touch eternity each time the host enters our body. Will you deny it or open up to it?
Trust is hard to earn – but even harder to extend. Really. Paradise. You need only trust and it’s yours. Today.