By Pam Carter
First UMC, Lakeland, FL
First, read Luke 23:42-43
Two men hung on either side of Jesus, but their reactions to their plight differed greatly. One asks to be miraculously saved although he did not deserve it. In the narrative this man follows many who misunderstand and mock Jesus.
There is the bored response of Pilate who passes the buck on passing judgment on Jesus, and instead sends him to Herod. Herod, having heard of the wonder worker Jesus, hopes to be entertained by some magical maneuvers. In the end he dresses him in finery and mocks him, sending him back to Pilate. Pilate eventually succumbs to the power of the mob and releases a murderer and crucifixes Jesus in his place, taking the easy way out. His interest seems to be only in determining if Jesus thinks himself a King, the King of the Jews, a threat to worldly powers.
Along the way to the cross both the Roman soldiers and the mob mock and ridicule him. "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself." Everyone seems to want the stupendous show of power and force in the story. Prove yourself. We all want proof.
Yet the criminal who hangs next to him acknowledges that he indeed deserves his punishment. And tells the other "don't you fear God?" He seems to be saying that asking for some powerful show of force is to dare God to appear. To believe that Jesus is indeed God's chosen one, sent to bring the Kingdom of God to reality, even in the midst of great darkness - this is the sign of faith that Jesus acknowledges. "Today you will be with me in paradise.
We may have times of darkness when all seems lost, when God's hand to save seems strangely still. Yet God is still there working to redeem, even when we cannot see his hand at all. This is faith, and it is honored by God.
The witness of this criminal also reminds us that sometimes the least likely persons can see an important truth that others cannot. Or perhaps they see a way forward that others cannot. God in his mercy grants vision to whom He wishes and we may in fact be surprised by the insights of those we think less deserving or important.
God's wonder working ways manifest themselves in the unlikely, the potentially overlooked person, not just in the magic on demand that we want. We may want the clarity in our dark times, the booming voice in the fog, the way forward that is unmistakeable. Yet God works differently, through unlikely people, in the most hopeless moments to show his wonder and his grace.
Prayer: Jesus, remember me ... lord we would ask this each day. Remember me. Help us to trust you in all things, in all times, even when the dark seems so dense. Remember me, O Lord. Amen.
- Which character do you most identify with in this story? Pilate or Herod who want Jesus to prove himself, the mob who don't want a Savior who challenges their status quo, the criminal who wants to be rescued even though he clearly deserves punishment, or the criminal who recognizes Jesus even in the moment of darkness.
What does it mean to fear God in this narrative.
- What does it mean when the criminal asks Jesus to "remember me"?
- How does the criminal show faith which leads to Jesus ' statement that he will be with him in paradise?
- In what area of your life is Jesus calling you to be more faithful?