March 31, 2010

The Good Thief

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom….
…Amen, I say to you: this very day, you will be with me in Paradise.

We are all thieves. This is what is revealed in Genesis about Adam and Eve. Seduced by an enchanting proposition, we coveted fruit that did not belong to us. We wanted knowledge of good and evil which we did not earn. What did we believe that knowledge would give us but power? And why did we want this power but that we were not grateful for being made in the image and likeness of God? Not satisfied to accept as sheer gift God's loving providence, we coveted divine powers out of lust to be in control. We thought we deserved to be gods though we had barely distinguished ourselves from thoughtless beasts. Like wild animals, we bit the hand that fed us. An echo of this resounds in every act of thievery; every act reminds us of what we made of ourselves before God.

The sense of security that we tried to steal for ourselves has led to our condemnation. The more we steal security, the more insecure we become. We have tried to rely on our skills to manipulate, deceive and overpower. But we have taken something we cannot repay. It is not that we have hurt God. In becoming thieves, we have destroyed ourselves, our capacity to trust God. Our covetousness has made us gluttons ever subject to insobriety. Rash judgment, contention and even strife overpower our hearts. In our pride, we have convinced ourselves that we cannot humble ourselves to beg. In our shame, we made ourselves too afraid to take responsibility. Who will pay the debt that alone can release us from our self-made prisons of fear, egoism and despair?

We need only look at the man crucified next to us. He too is a thief. He has no responsibility to bear our debt, yet He has stolen it from us. There he is drinking in all our malice, ingratitude, covetousness, petty quarreling, gluttony, insobriety, lust, anger, resentment, bitterness, fear and despair. Yet there is love in his eyes as his gaze fixes on us. We must not turn our eyes away from that face: beaten beyond recognition, covered with blood and spittle, and in dying agony. He has stolen the burden too great for us to bear, and if you fix your gaze on Him, He will steal your heart as well.

Once He has our hearts, how can we remain silent? How can we not trust? There are always malicious voices speaking words of condemnation. For them, such trust is ridiculous. In their chosen ignorance, they reject the one gift they need the most and He alone can give.  This gift cannot be stolen.  It must be recieved. But with mocking manipulation, they belittle the work He wroughts for us.  In the place of true freedom offered them as a gift, they bitterly demand a cheap parlor trick, “Come down off that Cross.” 

Since that day, this has ever been the monotonous condemnation of Hell in this world.  Why does God allow suffering?   Why does He not magically stop it?   Why does not God save Himself?  And so, even if it is only at the evening of our lives, we find ourselves his witnesses before this challenge. Gazing in the eyes of Christ, you know that this challenge cannot go unanswered.  As your own voice echoes, you find the freedom to take responsibility for yourself and for the first time you have the courage to accept the consequences for what you have done.  This courage comes from Christ who is bearing these consequences for you and with you - He will never abandon you.  You can trust Him because you see in his eyes, He trusts you even more.

Fellow thieves, let us together overcome the temptation to think our voices as a condemned criminals have no credibility. The only ones with any credibility at all are those who have looked into His eyes. Your voice, fellow thief, is credible to Him, and in the end; He is the only One who counts. Your prayer is a precious consolation for the One who bears so much rejection – and for this small recompense on your part, He is giving you eternal life even now.