Skip to comments.The Three Crosses: The Good Thief or the Cross Accepted
Posted on 04/02/2003 10:59:23 AM PST by Salvation
The Three Crosses: The Good Thief or the Cross Accepted FR. LEONARD PUECH
On the other side was the good thief. How different the scene, for the good thief shows the cross accepted!
No doubt he also suffers. His body is tortured; the nails pierce his hands and feet; he is consumed with thirst; his muscles are stretched to the breaking point, he is grasping for breath; he has a splitting headache.
He also suffers in his soul: he is not there by choice, but very much against his will. He sees the mess he has made of his life, which is lost; he is full of regret, covered with shame, but it is too late. There is no remedy. He knows well that he is on the cross to die.
He certainly suffers, but if there is no rest for his body, a deep peace is going to fill his soul. A sad ending in the eyes of men, but how happy in God's sight!
Exteriorily he suffers the same torture as his companion, but interiorily his dispositions are altogether different.
He accepts his cross with humility. Listen: "For us it is justice, for we are receiving what our deeds deserved; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk. 23, 41). He recognizes his crimes; he confesses them publicly (certainly everybody knows them, but he still could have pretended to be innocent); he recognizes the justice of his sentence; he does not try to excuse himself; he accepts full responsibility for his sentence; he places himself far below Jesus, who has done nothing but good, while he has committed crimes enough to merit death.
What a lesson for us always claiming to be innocent! So prone to protest in the time of trial, "What did I do to God? I did nothing wrong."
His faith is more wonderful still. Very likely this bandit had heard about this Jesus, who was stirring the people of Jerusalem and throughout the whole country from Galilee to Judea (Lk. 23, 5); but it does not seem very probable that he had ever heard his preaching or witnessed one of his miracles. Sermons can't have been quite his thing!
He had not followed Jesus during three years as the apostles had, and heard all his teachings, witnessed his miracles, been present at the resurrection of Lazarus, received holy communion, as they had; and yet his faith is more enlightened, more firm and more pure than theirs.
Just listen to him: "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk. 23, 24). Oh certainly, he looked like a king, this man condemned to death! Oh yes truly he seemed on the eve of taking possession of a kingdom, this man hanging there, naked and mocked by all, this rag of a man dying a pitiful death! What a keen sight was necessary to discern the superhuman greatness and the divinity of this man, who remained silent, while the crowd jeered at him, who did not work any miracle, but who knew how to suffer.
The good thief has only seen the patience of Jesus; has only heard him praying for his enemies. It is enough for him. He believes.
He believes, while all the wise men and the doctors of Israel remain blind. He believes, firmly, while doubt assails the heart of the most fervent disciples. We know what a scandal the death of Jesus was for the disciples. They had placed all their hope in him; they were quite sure he would be the promised Messiah, who would free Israel. And there he was, dying, rejected by the chiefs of the people.
Two days later, two of them are on their way back home, to Emmaus. Their great dream is over, and they go along sadly. "We were hoping," they will tell Jesus, "that it was he who would deliver Israel" (Lk. 24, 21).
"We were hoping:" they hope no more. He has been dead three days; it's all over. True, some of the women went to the tomb and found it empty; they talked about angels, who said he was living. But the men sent to the tomb and while they found it empty, they found nothing else. Just a woman's dream. No, it's really over.
Their faith was nearly dead; it had not been strong enough to withstand the scandal of the death of Jesus. What then was the strength of this thief's faith, who confessed it, when all others were losing theirs?
If the disciples were so weak, it was no doubt on account of the impurity of their faith. Too many natural motives attached them to Our Lord. It was an earthly kingdom they expected, in which they Jews, free from a foreign yoke, would rule the world. They contended for the first places in it, and, to the last minute, still expected it. When Jesus is about to go up to heaven, on the day of the Ascension, they still ask him: "Lord, are you going now to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1,6). They have not yet understood that the kingdom Jesus had been speaking about so often, was above all a spiritual kingdom. Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit will be necessary to purify their faith.
The good thief on the cross had already understood that the kingdom to which the dying Jesus was going was not of this world, as he had told Pilate (Jo. 18, 36). When he asks Jesus to remember him, he shows plainly that he is not dreaming of a kingdom here on earth.
He thereby discloses his hope a hope as wonderful as his faith.
The heart of this poor thief about to die seems to yearn only for heaven. He no longer cares for the goods of this world; he does not ask for them. He only wants Jesus to remember him, when he comes into his kingdom that Jesus will find him a little corner there. The goods of this world are taken away from him; he does not cling to them. He lets them go willingly. But he would like in return the goods of heaven.
With his past life he does not merit them; but it does not matter. He places all his confidence in Jesus. He knows well that he never did any good, that he accumulated crimes. He does not rely on his own merits, or good works; he does not have any. He counts only on the mercy of Jesus, who is, he feels, so infinitely good and compassionate.
He counts on the mercy of Jesus; he counts also on his power. When everything seems lost for Jesus, when he seems powerless to save himself, when the Jews mock his helplessness, our thief places his confidence in his superhuman power. "When you come into your kingdom." When everything is all over for him, with no hope of escaping death, with no power on earth that could save him, he still has confidence in Jesus: he can do something to save him.
And see the wonderful prayer he addresses to him: "Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk. 23, 42). He says very humbly, "Remember me." He is not one who would dare to ask for the first place in the kingdom, by his throne although he has that first place by his cross. He does not even dare to ask for the last one; he is nothing but a bandit. He only says, "remember me," or in other words "have mercy on me," the way the publican did, who did not even dare look up on account of his sins.
His prayer is not long. As Jesus had recommended to his disciples, he does not multiply words (Mt. 6, 7). It is not the many words or the length of the prayer that gives it its strength, but the intensity of the desire and the firm confidence which inspire it.
Very prudent is the prayer of our thief. He does not ask Jesus to take away his cross. He does not ask anything in particular. He only lays open to him his misery and his need, as if he were saying, "Remember me, because I am wretched and miserable." He does as the Blessed Virgin did at Cana, when she only said to Jesus, "They have no wine", sure that in his goodness he would see to it. He, like her, only recalls himself to the attention of Jesus, trusting that his goodness would do the rest.
What shall we say of his charity? That he shows it very perfect both toward God and toward his neighbor.
He submits to God's will with resignation and humility. "We suffer," he tells his companion, "But for us it is justice; we are receiving what our crimes deserved" (Lk. 23, 41). He submits with patience and without murmur to this punishment he did not desire, could not avoid, from which he cannot escape. Now that he is on the cross, he accepts it without rebellion, because he always kept the fear of God, respect for his power and his holiness.
As for his charity toward Jesus not only does he refrain from insulting him, but he defends him from the attacks of his companion. He alone, throughout the whole Passion, dared open his mouth to defend Jesus. True, he did not risk much: he has nothing to lose. But at least he was doing what he could to spare Jesus further suffering. How grateful Mary must have been to him.
He shows the same charity toward his companion. He is filled with zeal for his soul: "Do you not even fear God, when you are under the same sentence?" (Lk. 23, 40). As if he were saying, "You are going to die like Jesus, but how different your dispositions. Instead of his charity, you don't even have the respect due to the power and holiness of God, in whose presence you are about to stand." And he tries to put resignation into his heart ("our punishment we deserved"), and some charity toward Jesus ("but he, what wrong did he do?").
What will the result of his sufferings, thus accepted, be? In the eyes of the world, he loses everything. In the sight of God, he gains everything.
His suffering is not taken away from him. In spite of all his love for him, on account even of this love, Jesus is going to let him suffer, he is going to let him die on the cross. But if nothing was changed in the torture of the body during the three or four hours that his torment continued, what a relief for his soul! This poor heart of his, so agitated by all the passions during his life especially the love of money and the lust for pleasure at last comes to rest through his acceptance of God's will. When all his human dreams are broken to pieces like so many false mirrors, an immense hope floods him, which is going to give him the strength to suffer to the end without fail.
Jesus has something much better for him than to deliver him from his cross, which has freed him from his bad companions and all occasions of sin, and which is a means to make up for his past happiness, which could last at best a few short years with the risk of falling again into his old ways.
"Amen I say to you, this very day you shall be with me in paradise" (Lk. 23, 43).
With the formula of his most solemn affirmations, ("Amen I say to you"), Jesus gives to this bandit before his death the assurance of his eternal salvation a grace not given to all the saints; which St. Paul, in spite of all his work, had not yet received when he was writing to the Corinthians: "I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps after preaching to others I myself should be rejected" (1 Cor. 9, 27).
"I say to you: to you, to you alone, this grace is granted, to enter with me into paradise; to be the first to enjoy the glory of heaven immediately, after your death, before all the apostles, before the Blessed Virgin, without having to wait as did all the just of the Old Testament, the patriarchs, the kings, the prophets, St. John the Baptist, and even St. Joseph." What a lesson of confidence. The first to enter heaven immediately after his death is a thief! The most beautiful, the most successful, the most profitable burglar ever! What a lesson of humility. How we must avoid despising anybody. "The last shall be first" (Mt. 20, 16). How we must not rely on our own good works, but only on God's infinite mercy.
Listen to Jesus again: "this very day." What does it mean? "Your suffering, horrible as it is, will end very soon, this very day; tomorrow, tonight, and forever, rest and joy." What does it mean further? "This very day, right away, without going through purgatory, you are going to enter heaven, as if you had just been baptized." Thus suffering accepted has completely purified this soul, laden with crimes: a few hours of suffering fully accepted have erased years of sin.
Again Jesus speaks; "You shall be with me: forever, years without end, you shall be with me, nothing will be able to separate you from me or take away from you your happiness or cause you to lose it. No longer on a cross, but on a throne; no longer covered with shame and confusion, but clothed with glory, in the company of the angels and the saints, who will not despise you, but will admire you for having conquered heaven in such a strange way."
And Jesus ends, "In paradise, in bliss and glory. Your present suffering and shame, heaped upon you, are going to be the way to happiness and the road to eternal triumph."
Oh surely not! Poor thief, he had not run after the cross, he had not desired it; very much against his will he had been nailed to it; probably some of his old pals were there, watching his death, with some shivers of fear, pitying him for his bad luck. And yet what god luck. Suffering accepted saves this gangster and changes him from a bandit into a saint the first who entered paradise.
How mistaken those who think it easy to be saved after a life of sin, through a conversion at the last minute, like the good thief's. He had to recognize his sins, renounce his past, accept his cross in the present and desire only the reward promised by Jesus. The conditions for being saved remain the same at the last minute as before: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt. 16, 24).
See: The Three Crosses: The Bad Thief or the Cross Rejected
Fr. Leonard M. Puech, O.F.M. "The Three Crosses: The Good Thief or the Cross Accepted." In Spiritual Guidance (Vancouver, B.C.: Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice and Liberty, 1983), 252- 255.
Republished with permission of the Vancouver Foundation of art, Justice and Liberty.
The late Fr. Leonard M. Puech wrote a popular column for the B.C. Catholic from 1976 to 1982. Those columns were compiled and published by the Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice, and Liberty as the book Spiritual Guidance in 1983. The VFAJL is interested in reprinting Spiritual Guidance. Anyone who would like to contribute to this worthy cause please write: Dr. Margherita Oberti, 1170 Eyremount Drive, west Vancouver, B.C. V7S 2C5.
Copyright ©1983 Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice, & Liberty
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BTTT on Good Friday, 2005!
BTTT on Good Friday, 2006!
I planning on sharing it with family.
**planning on sharing it with family.**
God idea for all of us!