Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus is on the cross. Many bystanders, especially religious leaders, tended to mock him, deride him, rebuke him. Two convicted criminals were hanging on either side of Jesus. One mocked him along with the others, but one defended Jesus. Then in v.42 he makes a statement of faith “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Again I’m struck by how different kinds of people understood who Jesus was. People of power and privilege saw in Jesus a rabble-rouser who flouted conventions and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. They did not consider him a respectable leader, despite the amazing deeds of power he performed.
But people on the margins, the poor, the sick, the sinners, saw one who loved them and welcomed them even as most others rejected them. They didn’t just see the signs and wonders. They saw in Jesus hope that God the Father might actually receive them into his family and claim them as his own.
I recently went to visit a family friend who is near the end of life. A family member of his asked me to pray for him. Before I prayed I asked if the man was a Christian because I wasn’t really sure. His son told me he wasn’t sure either. The man certainly was not a church-goer, but that’s not necessarily the defining characteristic of a Christian. As I leaned over the man, and made the sign of the cross on his forehead, I thought about this story. I remembered that it’s never too late for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. And so in that spirit I prayed for the Lord to recognize this dying man was one of his own, a sheep of his own flock, a child of the family of God. The rest I will leave to the Lord.
Heavenly Father, today I pray for those who today may be far from you. It’s never too late for people to recognize who you are, even in their final moments on this earth. Draw them, and us, closer to you dear God. Amen.