Luke 23:42, "The [the thief] said, 'Jesus, remember me . . .'"
There were two thieves hanging there beside Jesus as Luke tells the story.
And Luke is the only one that tells this part of the story. Two thieves. One hanging on one side, one on the other, two who had committed crimes that were to be punished that day. And crucifixion was the punishment of choice for the Romans because it was so public, it was so terrible, it was painful and long. The Romans believed it to be a deterrent. They thought that if anyone saw what happened to these two, to anyone who was crucified, that no one else would try the same thing again. And to make sure that everyone knew why the person hung there, a scroll, a piece of paper bearing the crime of that person would sometimes be attached to the cross along with that criminal.
For these two thieves, theirs might have read, “For the crime of stealing, for theft.”
These two thieves who hung on either side of Jesus. And then there was Jesus, hanging in the middle, with a sign over his head that read, “King of the Jews.” That was Jesus’s crime . . . being King of the Jews, and King of this world, and King of our lives . . . those of us who follow him. The two thieves had been caught stealing.
It is in some ways a strange thing for this reading to be on a Sunday celebrated in many churches as "Christ the King" Sunday. We read a passage about our King being crucified, dying a criminal’s death, in shame and suffering, on a Sunday that is about crowning Jesus as King, about raising Jesus high as the Christ, as our Messiah, as our Savior, as our King, affirming the words that hung on that cross with Jesus, that title of “King.”
Maybe that one criminal looked over to his side, saw the sign above Jesus’ head. Maybe that one saw that it read “King of the Jews.”
“Well, if you are a King, then get us out of here.” I mean, can’t you see that we’re dying here?! Kings are supposed to have power and authority, right? Kings should be able to tell people what to do, how to do it, how high to jump when they say jump.
“Are you not the Messiah? Are you not the King? Then save yourself and us!” this one criminal taunts. And he mocks Jesus by calling him King, by assuming that Jesus’ kingship is what we imagine kingship to be, that Jesus rules over the type of kingdom that we too imagine when we think of what a kingdom is and means.
This criminal is mocking, but also trying everything he can to get out of this predicament. Because when we are caught, when we are in distress, when any of us is suffering, we want to do everything we can to get out, to have whatever it is that is bothering us to just stop. We find that we are afraid . . . afraid of being caught, fearing our punishment, becoming defensive when we know . . . when we know that we are wrong. We are part of a culture that says that nothing is our fault . . . get into a discussion with anyone, about something you disagree about, and you’ll find that we are all quick to lay blame, to point out how someone else has done wrong.
But then there was that second criminal, that second thief.
That second one knows that he is guilty; he knows that he is getting what is the punishment of the day; he knows that what he has done is wrong, that he has harmed others . . . and he knows the consequences. There is no attempt to hide, no attempt to blame someone else. Instead of mocking Jesus, this one says, “Don’t you see that this man is innocent? Don’t you fear God? We are both getting what we deserve; we are getting the punishment we deserve . . . but this man . . . this one has done nothing wrong.”
When we find that place inside of ourselves where we know the brokenness that is in our own hearts, when we know what we are supposed to do and have not done, when we know what we have done that we should not have, when we feel our weakness, our dis-ease, our weariness . . . when we find that place inside of ourselves, we know that we are weak, we are sinners, we have all failed in one way or another.
There are times in our lives when we must find that place inside of ourselves, that brokenness in our own hearts, that failure, that suffering. And we must approach that place in our hearts without fear, without blaming someone else for what we did, or saying that so-and-so stood in my way (because you allowed them to stand in your way). We must approach that place not looking at anyone else, but at ourselves.
This is the mode of confession. This is why when we confess our sins to God, we do so on our knees. “Have mercy on me God, a miserable sinner.” Before we approach the table to take of the meal that Jesus gave us, before we take of the bread of life and the cup of salvation, we acknowledge our own sin, our own shortcomings before God.
Then we become the one who says, simply, “Remember me.” We know that we have not received what we deserved; we acknowledge that this one who is innocent, who has done no wrong when we have done many, this one suffers and dies. That second criminal says very simply, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
We close our eyes, bringing our focus to our interior life, finding that place where you know who you really are, knowing your weaknesses. For some of us they come to mind almost too easily. Find that place without fear, without worry . . . because the one that we follow, this King that is yours and is mine, this one is beside you.
Be without blame. Don’t blame your spouse. Don’t blame your children. Don’t blame your parents. Don’t blame your coworker, your friend, whoever it is that you think did wrong. It starts with you.
We have all fallen. We are all unworthy. Just imagine Jesus there and say to him, “Jesus, remember me . . . Jesus remember me . . . Jesus, remember me . . . Jesus, remember me.”
And Jesus says to you and to me, “Truly I tell you, today, this day, you will be with me. This day I love you. This day know that you are forgiven. This day be thankful for all that you have. The kingdom that I bring to you is one of forgiveness and peace, of knowing God’s love and joy.”
This is Christ’s victory.
This is our victory.
This is our King.