One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”Luke 23:39-43
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Two thieves, suffering the same fate as Jesus — hanging on a cross, experiencing unimaginable pain.
Both men speak to him, but in very different ways.
To the second thief, Jesus speaks in return: offering a promise of hope.
We might have expected Jesus to speak to the first thief, as well; the one who “rails” at him and hurls insults. But there are no words for this first man — no words of hope, but no words of condemnation or judgement, either. Jesus only has silence to offer the first thief, and his own suffering alongside him.
It’s easy for us, I think, to pass our own judgement on this first man. In doing so, we tell ourselves that we’d never speak to Christ like that.
It’s easy to forget the pain this man was in was equal to that of Christ; that he suffered in the same way, that he also hung on a cross.
This man was speaking out of his pain.
Maybe you also know what that’s like. Have you ever railed at God out of a place of pain? Or perhaps not at God directly — perhaps it was at another person. But then, remember Christ says that “whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me”, so when we say hurtful things to one another, even if it’s because we’re in pain ourselves, we’re no different to that first thief on the cross.
And in the same way, when we do this, Jesus doesn’t speak to us harshly in response. He doesn’t give us any words of condemnation and judgement. Instead, He remains silent, and shares in our suffering, waiting for us to finish whatever it is we have to say.
Eventually, we’re done with our railing and our anger. We finally get to that point in our pain where there’s no more hurtful words left to say. We reach a place where the only thing left for us to cry out is, “Jesus — remember me!”
That’s the point when Christ finally speaks. That’s the point when He turns towards us, and He says, “Today — today, you’re with me.”
(Note: This article is adapted from a short message I delivered at my church on Good Friday, as part of a series on Jesus’ seven final sayings on the cross.)