“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
I finally ‘got’ something today. Remember Jesus’ parable about the landowner looking for workers to come work in his vineyard? When he went to the marketplace he found men waiting to work and offered them a denarius for a day’s labor. Throughout that day, at the third, sixth, ninth and even the eleventh hour, this landowner went back to the market-place gathering workers for his vineyard. When it came time to pay these workers, he first paid those he had hired last and gave them a full denarius. And then he continued through his crew in reverse chronological order paying those who had worked the least hours first and giving them all the full denarius he had promised them. Those who had worked the longest and hardest were unhappy at being paid the same as those who had worked only an hour and complained. His response was simply;”’Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” This whole story drips with the compassion and kindness of the landowner who was not only generous in payment, but generous in continuing to seek out those who needed what he had to give – worthwhile labor and the pay that comes from that. It also reeks of the self interest of the earliest workers. And I confess I’ve struggled because I enter most easily into the heart of those hard-working early workers. It doesn’t seem fair that they worked hard, long hours at some physical cost and yet received no extra praise for what they did. And these guys who came along late not only got the same pay, but got paid first. What is that about?
Good Friday showed me the truth behind this story as I again looked at Jesus on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one hanging on a cross to his left and one to his right. The criminals responded to Jesus in a way that displays humanity’s response to Jesus; one with scorn and disbelief and one with hope and longing. What connected the dots for me is Jesus’ response to the hopeful plea of ‘Remember me’ from one of those criminals. This man had nothing to offer Jesus. He had no laundry list of good things he had done and no way to make promises about the good things he would do for Jesus. I don’t know if he even knew to repent, confess, and make Jesus Lord of his life. All he could do was call upon the love and mercy and compassion of the one who hung on the cross beside him, boldly asking to be remembered. And in an astounding response of love and mercy in the midst of the most last minute declaration of hope ever expressed, Jesus affirms his love for this ‘worthless’ man with the simple statement “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Thinking on this brings tears of joy. I don’t regret this man’s ‘easy’ entrance into the love of Jesus; into paradise. Instead I relish it. Jesus loves us sinful ones with a vast, rich, ever-seeking love. His death and resurrection call us to him. It is never too late. I’m blessed to have come to know Him early and to enjoy a life of loving him, obeying him, serving him … working in his vineyard. That is abundant compensation! And what a joy to know that even those in the eleventh hour are called and can respond and receive his love and mercy! Praise Him!
“Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” Psalms 36:5