Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.
– Luke 23:32
We often get so focused on the crucifixion narrative of Jesus that we forget to recall some of the seemingly insignificant details around it. There are lessons for us here.
The Saturday before Easter is traditionally a day for reflection and silent adoration. Like our Lord’s Mother, we agree to wait with her, keeping watch in silence as we do with those who mourn. We ponder quietly in our hearts, as she does, all that Christ’s life brought us. We recall his words and his life, his death, and, because we are believers of his words, we meditate on his coming resurrection. It is in these moments of quiet reflection we can become more entwined to the Lord. In becoming one with his thoughts and desires of his heart, we can see more clearly. We come to realize there was so much more to his suffering and death than we first saw. There was in them life and hope and even more instruction. It was by Christ’s example that he instructed his disciples how to follow him.
Let us take time today to open our eyes and hearts to him that we might not miss a single moment of his example. The story of the two thieves on the cross is proof of this.
The two thieves that died with our Lord remind us that there are always two sides of the crucifixion of Christ being viewed at a given time. Either we are doubting the Lord’s power and authority and invoke him like the bad thief saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” or we are like the good thief, who understanding the significance of what Christ is doing rebukes such foolish thinking, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
The invocation of the good thief, whom tradition tells us was called Dismas, is that of the one who sees the cross. He needed no instruction on the Way, nor was it required of him to follow Jesus and his disciples before he could get his reward; this one knew the power of the cross just by gazing on it. The exclamation of his heart “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” was all that was necessary to receive the reward of faith, which is salvation.
And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Theologically, this may be hard for some to understand. The cross is not about following rules but about following Authority.
Where the bad thief, whom tradition tells us is called Gestas, challenged the Authority of Christ that he might live in the world once more, Dismas invoked the Authority of Christ by faith that he might be wherever Jesus is, dead or alive.
Gestas means to complain or to moan, while Dismas means sunset or death.
When we witness the call of Christ’s example of power on the cross, we are given the opportunity to respond in one of two ways. We can either complain and moan at the certainty of our circumstances, since we are all under the same sentence of condemnation, or we can find the beauty in our death.
No matter the length of our days, once we behold the cross and confirm our response we are sealed in Christ’s blood. It is finished.
It matters not if you will have years to work out and keep your salvation free from the stain of sin, or if your life shall end shortly after your confession of faith, as it did for both men on the cross. What matters is what you believe and confess with your lips.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
– the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans (chapter 10:1-13)
It’s in the small details of Christ’s life that we will find the Truth, not as revealed by men but by the Spirit of God.
Let us follow then, in the example of our Lord’s first and closest disciple, she who bore witness to ever moment of his life, she who followed him every step of the way on his journey to the cross, she who always found the strength of grace to be present to our Lord in all his sufferings and all his joys. Let us learn to ponder Christ’s life as Mary did from the moment of his conception and ever after the day of his resurrection.
We pray, dear Father, that you would endow us with the grace of your Son’s cross, and by the power of His death and resurrection let your Holy Spirit guide us into all Truth that we may become like Mary was, open in every way to the work of your hand, and confess as she did and as our Lord did, by example in word, deed and prayer, Thy will be done.
May your Holy Saturday be filled with the truth of Christ’s cross. May you have eyes to see like the good thief and may the world be moved by your example of Christ’s Authority at work in you to exclaim his innocence.
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
– Romans 10:47-49
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