The Gospel at Mass today, from Luke Chapters 22 and 23, includes an account of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.
(On Palm Sunday, the Gospel at Mass is always from one of the synoptic Gospels. On Good Friday, the account proclaimed is from the Gospel of John.)
The account from the Gospel of Luke is notable (among other reasons) for the inclusion of the words spoken by "The Good Thief." Mark and Matthew also mention the two men crucified alongside Christ but only Luke remembers redemption for one:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Those few words have given hope to millions of believers through the centuries. They certainly give hope to me.
Of the many images James Tissot painted depicting scenes from Good Friday, one of the most interesting imagines two angels carrying Criminal No. 2 into heaven. Here is "The Soul of the Good Thief" or "L'âme du bon Larron" from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art:
In his Palm Sunday homily, Deacon Greg singled out some of the words of The Good Thief:
Flashbacks: Palm Sundays 2009, 2008 and 2007.
... We start out acting like angels, singing "Hosanna." And we end up just being the mob.
It can sometimes be that way throughout the church. The headlines this week have told the story. Men called to holiness can be guilty of appalling sins. Sins of abuse. Sins of neglect. Sins of dishonesty. Sins of betrayal.
And yet, to be a part of the body of Christ is to be with him on the cross. The Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser has put it powerfully. "To be a member of the church," he wrote, "is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul .... because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves."
And all we can do sometimes is echo the words of the one thief, words we heard just a few moments ago: "Jesus, remember me." That moment is the only one in any of the gospels where someone calls Jesus by his given name. Maybe it is because it is at this moment - the hour of his death -- that he is most like us. He hangs there, stripped, beaten, betrayed. He hangs among thieves. This is what we have done to our God. And this is what we continue to do, even today.
And in our own brokenness, and sinfulness, we ask that he remember us. We pray that we may be better than we are, and receive better than we deserve. We pray that we, who often deserve to be forgotten, may be remembered. ...