“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
During his time here on earth, Jesus taught us that our ways of thinking and acting are not God’s ways. He was continuously reminding us what God had spoken through the Prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) And God’s ways are: “The last shall be first”. The latecomers in the vineyard were paid as much as those who worked all day! There is no way that the world would agree to this according to its rules.
We fast forward to the last day of Jesus: Jesus hanging on the cross between two thieves. One thief personifies the contrast between the rules of God and those of the world. He reproached the other thief who was deriding Jesus: “… we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He was acknowledging the miscarrying of justice that was happening. The thieves deserved to die, but not Jesus. He did nothing to deserve that.
And this repentant thief, turning to Jesus, did something astonishing, he made a profession of faith in Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
This profession of faith did not come from a disciple. The disciples who were expected to stand up for Jesus through thick and thin, when times started getting hard they disappeared… they hid away in fear. The profession of faith came from a criminal. Only he spoke of Jesus and his kingdom. Only he realized that He who hung on a cross next to him was, a King who with His death was opening his Kingdom that others may enter.
This thief did something unexpected. But the passion story is full of these characters who do what is unexpected from them. The disciples of Jesus, first they slept then they escaped and hid away. Those that proved themselves to be Jesus’ enemies are not the mighty pagan Romans, but the Jews, the chosen people of God. They were responsible for the death of Jesus, the Son of God. They preferred to let a heartless highwayman go free and the Son of their God, who was God himself, be executed.
The people of God, the Jews, the believers, they did not acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The pagans did. Pilate declared him King of the Jews and nailed his affirmation to his cross. The Roman Centurion acknowledged Jesus as: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
God’s ways are not our ways! God chooses those through whom He would like to speak to us, and His choices are unpredictable. Notwithstanding that Pilate cares only about his career rather than to do justice and he condemns Jesus and frees Barabbas, yet God chose him to be the one to declare Jesus as King.
Our God is a God of surprises. A surprise that the Jews did not understand was that the Messiah should suffer and die when they expected a glorious and triumphant Messiah who would establish the kingdom of the people of Israel. The disciples could not fathom it when Jesus predicted his death and Peter tried to talk Him out of it. They could not understand how He would establish this kingdom if He is going to be executed. They were stunned into unbelief and scared to death. But God’s ways are not our ways!
Sometimes God’s ways confuse us because His reasoning seems to go contrary to all that we were told. The world tells us that the thief deserved only condemnation and death. God shows that in his infinite wisdom He thinks it differently. By God’s standards the thief deserves not only forgiveness but also a place in the kingdom. Once again the last are first. The last hour workers in the vineyard are paid as much as the others who worked all day. It is not the right way to run a business… but God is not running an earthly business but He is in the business of redemption where the laws are different.
This is God’s way of thinking and acting and shouldn’t we be thankful for it, because otherwise, do you think that we will be entitled to salvation?
Let us be honest! Isn’t there a dark side in our lives that we do our very best to keep hidden and carefully overshadowed by the good works that we do? If it were not for God’s grace and mercy, do you think that we deserve forgiveness and redemption?
We deserve to die, but if we decide to be like the repentant thief, and repent and ask for forgiveness, like him we can also ask our Lord and Saviour that we also be welcomed into his kingdom.
We cannot be good enough or work enough to earn it. But when we turn to him and sincerely plead: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” He will remember us. He will welcome us into his kingdom.