Year of Faith, Article III: Faith on the Hill. (The Two Criminals)


  Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
"Are you not the Messiah? 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."

                                                                                    - Lk. 23:39-43.

Wow!  You almost want to be that fortunate criminal who through faith and humility gained entrance into paradise within the blink of an eye.  We recently read and/or heard this scripture passage in church during the passion narrative; and one has to wonder how this criminal came to such faith in such a dire moment? It would have been perfectly normal for this criminal to think, “Gosh, I got caught!  Oh no, this punishment is too much!  Or even to swear and curse at those meting out his punishment to him.  Instead, he literally did an examination of conscience, realized his faults and in humility acknowledged that he did not even deserve to be near the Son of God who was righteous and just.  What faith!

How many times have we fully acknowledged our faults and sought pardon; whether we have gone directly to the one we have offended or at least acknowledged our faults and shown remorse?  Notice Jesus did not ask him what he had done; he simply loved him (to death and to life literally).  Being true God, Christ knew what this criminal had done.  That did not matter.  What mattered was the criminal’s faith in asking to be remembered when he (Jesus) came into his kingdom.  Even the criminal knew that Christ was not of the earth, he had come down to earth (through incarnation) for a purpose. The criminal knew that Christ was compassionate and that is why he had the guts to ask to be remembered.  See, he only asked to be remembered and he got more than he asked for, paradise!  This same Christ had told his followers earlier on “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you…” (Mt. 7:7).

Interestingly, Thomas, one of the disciples who had been with Christ through his ministry lacked such faith.  Even when his fellow disciples had told him the Lord had appeared to them, he insisted he had to see to believe. De la Potterie (1989) gives a fascinating interpretation to Thomas’s unbelief and its ramifications for future believers.  De la Potterie notes.

The parallelism between the appearance to Thomas and the appearance to the disciples shows quite clearly in what sense we must ‘see’ Jesus.  The disciples had told Thomas: ‘We have seen the Lord’ (Jn.20:25). This was … a vision of faith, the faith, the fruit of the gift of the Spirit.  Thomas’s refusal, however, is categorical.  He wants to prove things for himself… Nonetheless, Jesus manifests himself again, this time in Thomas’s presence: he grants his wish and lets him touch him.  But he formally invites him to go beyond the equivocal and dangerous point where he stands: ‘Be no longer faithless but become (ginou) a man of faith.’ … For Thomas this was an invitation to make a radical change: the passing from an exclusively sensible view of Jesus and the wounds of his passion (unless I see) to the vision of faith of the glorified Lord (you have seen); it was this that inspired his confession of faith: ‘My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). (p184).

We, like Thomas are called to the vision of the glorified Lord.  We are called to walk by faith and not by sight (not always easy).  But as we are reminded in Hebrews 11:1“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Even more poignant is the fact that Enoch was taken from this life without experiencing death for “he was commended as one who please God.  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:5-6).
 
So, back to the two criminals; the one who gained instant residency into paradise obviously was humble enough to recognize that he was in the presence of someone greater than he.  He had the eyes of faith to see Christ for who he really is – LOVE!  The other criminal unfortunately like some of us continue with the taunting and unbelief.  If you are the Christ, why don’t you do this… remember the temptations in the desert?  Who was behind them?  Ask yourself to whom will you go; the father of lies or the Son of truth?   There are a lot of lessons to learn from this exceptional faith on the hill.  Lord, help my unbelief!

Author:
Dorothy Mensah-Aggrey, MA
Administrative Specialist-Curriculum Design & Adult Catechesis
University of Dayton
Institute for Pastoral Initiatives

References
De la Potterie, I. (1989). The hour of Jesus: The passion and resurrection of Jesus according to John.  St. Paul Publishing: Staten Island, NY.
New American Bible, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PXS.HTM

Note: This is a series of articles that will be published once a month during the Year of Faith taking a different perspective on the biblical aspects of the Year of Faith.

Original Release Date: May. 2013