The Good Thief
Submitted by: Gord Gooderham
The combination of the words good and thief seem as contradictory as the expression, Good Friday. Both come from the same day in history. One of the two criminals executed alongside Jesus at the Passover remembrance repented and trusted his life to Jesus, thus becoming the good thief.
This unnamed villain had lived a wild and reckless life, an outlaw and bandit who robbed and plundered without remorse or regret. Luke described him as ‘kakourgos’, a person of evil disposition and evil works. His behaviour was such that the Roman courts deemed him deserving of public execution. Death, not by the quick, efficient and relatively painless method of beheading, but by crucifixion, the most painful and the most disgraceful punishment and death powerful men had devised. A threefold agony; the preliminary scourging with bone-studded leather thongs, carrying the 200 lb beam of the cross to the execution site, and the prolonged hanging naked on the cross for hours or days until asphyxiated. Nobody messed with Rome.
Jesus suffered the same death. Mark records that “those who were crucified with him, reviled him.” It was normal for the crucified to curse their tormentors as they gasped for air. The man in the middle uttered no such vulgarities, but rather sought forgiveness of his accusers, and provided ongoing care for his grieving mother. No one, including the thieves, had ever witnessed such behaviour. One thief mocked Jesus, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” But the second, seeing the great difference in Jesus, rebuked his comrade, “Don’t you fear God,…We are punished justly…But this man has done nothing wrong.”
And then reviewing his life, once a revolutionary, then a rebuker of a godly man, he repented in his heart, and implored Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He saw through the injustice of the verdict of powerful Rome, to the reality of another government, a kingdom excelling and outlasting that Latin power. He saw through the spit and sweat and shame, a body smeared with blood, to the person of a King, the Lord of that Kingdom. He saw through the gross ending of this earthly life, to another realm, triumphant, righteous and whole. He became the good thief.
And Jesus received his confession of faith, “Assuredly (lit. ‘Amen’) I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We all must pray, “Lord, remember me.”
Don’t let it be your last words.