I AM THE PENITENT THIEF (Luke 23: 26-43).
My day of execution had come. I was not really that bad. I was just a victim of my society. No one would hire me with my record. The only way for me to live was resort to stealing. Since I had helped myself to a few more times than I should, I had accepted my sentence and resigned myself to the ultimate. My partner and I were to be hung on crosses outside Jerusalem as a reminder that crime did not pay. Only on this particular day, we ended up as the sideshow. All the attention was focused on a man called Jesus. We had heard that He was a man of peace and good will. The people liked Him but the leaders were afraid of Him. Still, He had done nothing wrong. What was He doing here? What did anybody have against Him? I began to watch and listened and came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no justice in this world and that it would be a pleasure to enter eternity with this humble and unassuming man from Galilee. It was a perfect example of not having a reason to hate someone.
When I first laid eyes on Jesus, He looked beaten and wounded. His clothes were bloody and so was His face. Someone, had forced a crown of thorns on His head. He could barely walk and had to carry His cross. One of the soldiers took pity on Him and had a strong man, by the name of Simon from the town of Cyrene, carry Jesus’ cross. Women were reaching out for Him and cried. He comforted them not to weep over Him, but for them and their children for what lay ahead. There was a time coming when women will pray not to have babies and when people will wish that mountains would cover them and hills fall on them. He was telling the women to pay attention to what men were doing to a green tree now and then image what shall be left when the tree is dry. It dawned on me, that Jesus was the Green Tree they were cutting down. They were not even giving Him a chance to grow old. The leaders did not want anything to grow that differed with their ideas.
It took a while to climb the hill of Golgotha and a place called the “skull.” They immediately hung us on three crosses by pounding nails through our hands and feet. They were in a hurry because the Day of Rest was close at hand and no criminal was allowed to hang on a holy day. It was a dismal and scary place. Just to look at it, one felt cold showers running down the back. Now the three of us were the sole inhabitants of that place for the day. My partner and I were left alone and the pain was unbearable. But Jesus they did not leave alone. They kept on ridiculing, mocking and abusing Him. They quarreled over His clothes. They kept on saying strange and irrational things about this man. Our own people told Him to save himself as He did others. Being the Christ or Chosen One of God, it should be no problem. The soldiers mocked Jesus by giving Him vinegar instead of water to drink, pretending it was wine and being the King of the Jews it should be easy to save him self. My partner, who should have had more sense, also started in on Him demanding that He come down from the cross and save us too. And what did this Good Man do when all that hatred and evil was thrown at Him? I could not believe my ears. He prayed for them begging God, whom He called Father, to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing.
No, this man Jesus did not belong on this hill! I laid it into my partner. “Don’t you fear God,” I asked? “We deserve what we are getting. But This Man has done nothing wrong!” Then I turned to this god-fearing man and begged Him to remember me when He got to his godly world on the other side. In a weak voice He replied, “I assure you, before this day is over, you will have joined me in my world called Paradise!” From that moment on, a strange but wonderful feeling came over me. All of a sudden, I felt clean and forgiven. I, too, was forgiven and for merely believing in Jesus’ innocence, I was promised a place in Paradise. I truly felt sorry, not for myself, but for Jesus and what they were doing to Him without a cause. Oh, how I wished I had a chance and do something to ease His suffering. What bothered me even more was that none of the people that this Chosen One of God had helped were there to take His side. I was His only spokesmen and then only to another criminal. No one defended Jesus. He was left all alone to face his accusers and judges.
It was a rare privilege to hang beside the Son of God on a cross. And it was even a greater privilege to watch Him behave under all that inhuman treatment. He did not lose His composure but took it as if it was meant to be. I had the feeling that He was paying for the sins of others, including mine. He had been on a Holy Mission and He felt that He had finished it. Just before He let life leave Him; He said, “It is finished.” Then He tilted His head sideways and died. I wrestled with death several more hours. The soldiers had to break my legs to hasten my death. But this man, Jesus, He just gave up the ghost at will. I realized, too late, that this Man had full charge over His life and that He was going through suffering, abuse and death by choice. I began to believe that He did it just to meet me and invite me to join Him in heaven. And it was with that feeling I too left this world. I knew that Jesus was already waiting for me. He was the kind of a man that kept His promise and I was the kind that needed such a promise. And in Paradise, I shall no longer steal to survive; for, that is where I went.