“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, 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 this man 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.” (Luke 23:39-43)
The person hanging on the cross next to Jesus, who merely asked to be remembered, must have been stunned to hear that he would be in Paradise that very day. All these centuries later, this statement is still as enigmatic as ever. Repentance, atonement, sin, punishment, and the purgation necessary for entrance into Heaven all seem to have gone by the wayside in this account of the Crucifixion. Yet, upon closer examination, the repentant sinner did undergo the punishment of death on the cross and received absolution from Jesus. It is God’s mercy that triumphs over justice and is administered under His perfect providence. The “last minute” conversion concept is not easy to understand, especially for those who have kept God’s commandments their entire lives. The elder brother in the Prodigal Son parable is a good example of how our ways are not God’s ways, and how our sense of fairness and justice in how God deals with others can lead to confusion, bitterness, and misunderstanding.
The account of the laborers who arrive at different times throughout the day, while receiving the exact same wage, is another example of how things work in God’s economy. It is God’s generosity that eclipses the laborers’ notion of equity and fairness. We can learn a valuable lesson from these examples by keeping our eyes fixed on God, and away from judging the condition of others.
Let us pray for the grace and strength to look past our perception of how God deals with our neighbor and look toward how God blesses each of us with gifts that are unique to our personhood and our particular mission in His vineyard.