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“Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise”

Jesus offered the gift of paradise to one of the thieves crucified with Him, the one who asked Him to be remembered when He would be in his Kingdom. Through this, Jesus revealed once again how God is merciful and forgiving.

The context of the second word of Jesus on the cross is that of a dramatic scene: One of the criminals crucified next to Jesus, verbally abused Him saying: “‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well’. But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you go to your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23, 39-43).

Probably this criminal whom tradition has called ‘good thief,’ heard Jesus’ supplication ‘Father, forgive them,’ and recognizing in Him a divine power, exclaimed with the beautiful prayer that the dying Jesus answered promptly.


The Word Of God Is Powerful

The living Word of God is powerful and when it is pronounced, it generates wonders as it did on Calvary. And how beautiful it is for us to notice that Jesus answered the thief’s prayer saying he would be with Him in paradise not after a year, not after a month, but that same day!

I believe that having prayed the way he did made him ready for paradise. Christian tradition has named this thief, ‘good thief.’ I do not know whether we still have good thieves or whether we can learn from thieves. However, from this thief, so close to us to be taken as a teacher, we have a lot to learn.

So we ask: What did he do to obtain salvation? Three things: He recognized himself as a sinner. He recognized Jesus as king and savior, and he opened himself to Christ and His saving action. Maybe it was the first prayer in the life of that thief, but it was enough for him to escort Jesus into Heaven. Did he steal Paradise? The answer is no as it is impossible to steal Paradise. Paradise has been, is, and will always be a great gift from God and from His Mercy. We are called to imitate the good thief. Like him, we recognize that we need salvation; we need to proclaim Jesus as Savior, and to accept his person and saving action with joy and gratitude.


The Glorious Kingdom Of Heaven

Let us analyze this second last word of Jesus with more depth because it has a lot to teach us. In a society in which so many people, it seems to me, deny eternal life, this word of Jesus and the good thief himself, tell us about the future God has in store for us, that is, life forever after our limited life on earth, life in the glorious Kingdom of heaven. We can ask ourselves: What are the reasons why God conceived the gift of eternal life for us?

I believe that the most important reason is something beautiful that happened during the Baptism of Jesus in Jordan and after our own Baptism, too: “After Jesus had been baptized, (…) suddenly the heavens opened.”

It opened and nobody will be able to close it again. This is a beautiful image telling us that the world of God was opened to welcome the whole of humanity redeemed by Jesus, while the distance between God and humanity was annulled forever. As for our own Baptism, when each one of us was baptized, God the Father proclaimed the same words He proclaimed for Christ Jesus: You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter that I love. Naturally, we continue being children of God if we grow as such, if we journey in the footsteps of Christ Jesus putting the Gospel at the center of our life so that it may be for us the source of our words, of our plans, of our evaluations.

The Church encourages us as she invites us to live our earthly life with faith, keeping our horizons open to life in heaven. In the Creed each one of the faithful proclaims, “I believe in eternal life.” 

Another reason for believing in life that is forever is the loving relationship that Jesus has with us. For the French writer and philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, to tell a person “I love you” means to tell that person “You will never die.” For God this expression has an infinite value. It is good for us to nourish our faith in eternal life.

To concretize, we can exercise detachment from earthly things, even from life itself, consider death as a beautiful encounter face to face with the merciful Lord, and to say this prayer more  often: ‘In the hour of our death  call us Lord Jesus so that we may come and adore you with all the saints for ever.’ Amen!

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