We’ve explored this passage before on this web site. It is one of the selections from the Order of Christian Funerals. Fifty-two weeks ago to the day we looked at it briefly. In returning to it today, I would still say it is far more often sung than procalimed at funerals, especially that much-loved request of the Lord, “Jesus, remember me …” Remember also that this line was one of the three finalists in the Favorite Bible Verse poll earlier this year.
Today, however, we look at it in context of the Sacrament of Penance. Let’s read again:
One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion
reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other man, 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 he 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.”
Notice the conversation between the thieves is a question responding to a question. It struck me that may well reflect the interior division within a penitent. We come to Christ. And don’t we sometimes expect to be saved? Demand to be saved? After all, if God saves someone like us (unworthy as we are, wink, wink) wouldn’t that be a feather in the Lord’s cap? On the other hand, a well-formed conscience pulls us back from our sinful impulses. Haven’t we asked, “Do I really want to be doing this? How have I gotten myself into this mess?”
And that well-formed reply would be, “Through my fault, my fault, my grievous fault.” My own fault.
And the Lord’s assurance to the good thief is no different from that to us. “Today you will be with me.”
Post-penance is not Paradise–not yet. But it is life with Christ. That is what the completion of the Sacrament offers us. Union with the Lord. Closeness, and all that entails.
Luke 23:39ff is a finer reading for Penance than for Funerals. And it’s short enough to use with regularity in form I. Among you confessors and penitents, have you experienced this reading used in the Sacrament of Penance?