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Weekly Message 04-02-10: Great and Holy Friday

Great and Holy Friday

I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise
Luke 23: 43.

As we think and meditate on the multiple events of this day, the question arises, "Now why did Jesus do this?" What in the world did He have to gain by promising this desperado a place of honor at the eternal banquet table? What in the world could this chiseling quisling ever offer in return? Absolutely nothing!

And that is precisely the point. The love of our heavenly Father, the love of Jesus Christ crucified does not depend on what we do for him because there is nothing good or great enough that we can do for him. In the eyes of our Saviour we have value simply because we respond to his first shown love and seriously and sincerely live up to his expectations for our gifted and blessed life. Simply because God created us means we have value in his sight. We do not have to look nice, or perform well. Our value is inborn. We simply have to live like we believe in what He teaches; we have to keep alive the gift of faith which is instilled in us at our baptism. We have to remain faithful to the grace He imparts in our daily living.

We have to daily recall and remind ourselves we are destined for glory because we are made in the image of God. Through sin we lost the living likeness to God, but can regain it by fidelity to the cause of the Saviour since He came among us to show us the way. The repentant thief on the cross immediately recognizes his own besmirched dignity in the contrasting activity and behavior of the Lord on the cross beside him. Caught up as we are so many times in the fallen and depraved activity of the world around us, we forget our own dignity. So we must remember our value in the sight of our Creator the next time we are left bobbing in the wake of someone's steamboat of ambition. We must remember the words of the Lord and the assurances given the repentant thief the next time a trickster tries to hang a bargain basement price tag on our self-worth. The next time someone of the world tries to pass you off as a cheap buy, just think about the Lord's response to the sincere but nevertheless worldly thief and think how our Lord honors him and us.

We can smile with seriousness because we now know what follows crucifixion for the sake of the Lord. We are being taught what occurs after faithfully carrying our inevitable cross in life. Paradise makes us a vital participant if we walk the path of Christ. It is fellowship with those who are faithful to our God and with those who believe, who persevere, who have held " the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" Hebrews 3: 14.

The second statement our Lord makes from the cross is a promise of paradise to the malefactor being crucified with him. "And he said to him, `Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise"' Luke 23: 43.

All suffering has to end. All sinning must be concluded. Repentance is the time and moment for reality to start. And the thief grasps it and holds it dear. To those who follow the Lord in faith response, separation from life in sin has a beginning and has an end. It will not go on forever. The end of every faithful believer is paradise and paradise is where our God is and paradise is where our God wants us to be. It was to reopen the doors to paradise that our Lord sacrifices his own life on the cross to unite us with him in common destiny. The thief, all his life did as he wished, went his own way, pursuing his own pleasure, without benefit of any inspired instruction or teaching. He had his fill of destructive behavior. He was overwhelmed by the weight of sin. In ending on the cross for what he finally judges to be "We deserved it after all. We are only paying the price for what we have done; but this man has done nothing wrong" Luke 23: 40, 41.

Is not the observation and promise of God an uplifting inspiration to the believer? The righteous thief mentioned and encountered by Christ was victim obviously to a variety of seductions in life which he jumped upon to embrace. He liked the easy way out of life's challenges and submitted wholeheartedly to them. Finally, caught in their mighty deceptive embrace, he ends on the cross as just punishment for what he sinfully enjoyed doing in life. At last, he sees paradise is the reward of those who finally overcome: "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God" Revelation 2:7. Is this not an inspiring and beautiful uplifting truth?

What do we need in the midst of suffering? Hope is the answer; the hope of glory, of life, of fellowship with Christ our Saviour. We are not to submit ourselves in weakness of mind and soul to the seductive temptations of the evil one. And what do we need to convey to others as we hang there suffering in life? We need to convey the reality and glory of the sure hope of heaven.

Few of us get to know ahead of time the day we will pass from time into eternity. The thief on the cross received that privilege and an infinitely greater gift of an unexpected destination simply because he encounters Christ and believes him. While deathbed conversations are not the norm and should not be the plan, the assurance of our Lord raises at least one large question: "How was the thief transformed from an abject sinner on the way to eternal separation from God into a traveler destined for eternal fellowship with our Maker? What did he do to be saved?

To ears accustomed to very precise and measured, even canned vocabulary and language of salvation, the words of the thief may sound unsophisticated and incomplete: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" Jesus accepts what the words express: repentance based on faith response to Christ's first shown love. The man recognized his sinful and lacking condition in comparison to the innocent purity of Christ's life. He did not assume forgiveness; he asked; he apologized for his life's behavior And of course our Lord responds to the sincerity of his move with a wholehearted royal reprieve. The Lord commutes this sinner's sentence of deserved eternal punishment and absorbs his sin into his own impending death. Further interaction can wait until both are in paradise!

After we are forgiven our sins in the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation, we can continue our conversation with the Lord in paradise!

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