There were two criminals suffering with Jesus at His death. In our own areas of pain, I think many of us align with the first thief, demanding God relieve suffering on our terms, and ready to turn on Him or from Him when He doesn’t.
(Last week, I wrote that Jesus ignored this thief’s demand not because He didn’t care, but because the thief was asking for something Jesus could not, in love, give.)
The second thief saw his own suffering (and Jesus’ suffering) differently. And Jesus’ response opens a way through suffering for all of us.
I want to be more like this second thief.
Thief #2: “Remember me.”
There were so many kinds of pain in crucifixion. In addition to the excruciating physical suffering, the pain that strikes me most was the pain of loneliness—those who had once been friends, family, and fellows would not now risk association. They suffered alone.
We have too.
Whether real or perceived, we’ve experienced rejection and abandonment. We’ve not fit in or we’ve felt on the outside. Or perhaps we’ve simply experienced others’ inability to “get” what we’re going through or unwillingness to simply be with us in our pain.
Mother Theresa’s words ring true: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
Somehow in his pain, the second thief does not demand. He doesn’t turn on or from Jesus. Instead, he makes a humble request: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your Kingdom,” (Luke 23:42).
He understands that anything he might receive from Jesus will come only through Jesus’ grace and generosity. Jesus alone is the One who “did nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). So for this criminal, suffering does not earn or entitle him to anything. He comes to Jesus with only need and desperation, at the mercy of Christ’s reply.
This thief’s “when You come into your Kingdom” is an astonishing acknowledgement. Think about it: The three of them were dying. This was the end. All he had or had been was lost. But he believed Jesus’ death would not be the end for Jesus, and perhaps more astonishingly, that Jesus was going to be King.
Jesus in His suffering did not ignore, did not lash out, and did not wallow in self-pity. He promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The same can be true for you and me as well.
We unite with Christ in His suffering not because He cannot heal, not because He doesn’t want to heal, and not because suffering is the end, but because in Christ suffering and death lead to resurrection.
In His humility, Jesus responded, and so the second thief’s crucifixion became united with His crucifixion. And so likewise, this thief would be raised united with Christ’s resurrection.
This is the hope of Jesus. Not that we get all we want now, not even that all our pain go away now, but that if we’ll submit our pain and loneliness, trials and temptations to be united with Jesus in His death, we shall one day find all of them gone, and ourselves with Him, alive.
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