Seven Last Words: “Today you will be with me in Paradise."

Seven Last Words: “Today you will be with me in Paradise."

“I just can’t wait.” How many times do I say this? To be put on hold or made to wait unnecessarily because of some controlling tactic by another person is one of the most frustrating experiences in our lives. If you look up “Waiting is Deadly” on the Internet, the top matches are quotes from people trying to deal with government offices (no surprise there!), immigration visa departments, and especially from prisoners… and everyone I know has had been made a “prisoner” of uncertainty, waiting anxiously for news in some emergency situation or for medical testing/operation results for themselves or for their loved ones.

For those with extended jail sentences, hours and days and months and years pass with extreme slowness and boredom. In the Gospel, two prisoners are crucified with Jesus. How long were they held in prison waiting only for their last day, we do not know; however, even a relatively short time can seem an eternity when there is no hope for release. Now on their crosses they begin to descend slowly and agonizingly into death. Mark’s Gospel relates that both robbers began their long vigil by insulting Jesus (cf Mk 15:32).

The Psalms describe the sentiments of Jesus: “Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:20-21). Since there were no comforters, God’s grace and especially the forgiveness Jesus had asked for us, created an unlikely comforter–the “Good Thief” who is traditionally named Dismas. Turning away from insulting Jesus, he now defends him. “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” (Lk 23:40-42)

How consoled must Jesus have been to hear this confession of faith! The professionally religious of the time had denied both Jesus and God the Father as their king; “we have no king but Caesar!” (Jn 19:15) And here a justly condemned criminal has the reward of his belief–he is promised paradise without delay! “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43)

What is this “today”? The letter to the Hebrews reminds us of our opportunity of faith, quoting the Old Testament "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb 3:7). The reward of faith is a new day–a real today of rest with God forever!

“So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God… Let us therefore strive to enter that rest... Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (cf Heb 4:8-16). The Good Thief’s heart had been softened, he took advantage of the “today”—the only day he had—to draw near this throne of grace.

The promise of Jesus did not make Dismas’ last hours any less agonizing, but they gave meaning to each moment of suffering with the assurance, on God’s word, of paradise, and soon! A prison chaplain told us how the juvenile offenders had written on a small sign near the cross of Dismas in the Crucifixion scene in jail, “He copped a good plea.” We can copy this “copping” and Jesus responds to our plea with the same promise of a “today” with him. It is being with Jesus that makes for Paradise.

Scripture verses for meditation:

St. Peter reassures us: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance… But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Pet 3:9, 13-14).

  • For myself: The “today” is both for me to draw near to Jesus as our King and Lord and it is the beginning of my own paradise, though it may not seem that it is so. “Today” begins with my confident faith in the Lord’s mercy and love even in the face of seemingly unbearable situations and in the smaller trials we experience every day. At times, even the wait for an elevator seems a burden! Can I recognize my trials and delays as invitations to hope and trust? Lord, help me to remember you, and trust that you are always remembering me.
  • For someone else: Proverbs 3:27-28 “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it'—when you have it with you.” Lord let me not delay in doing the good I can do for my family, my coworkers, my neighbors.

by Sr. Madonna Janet, FSP




Lent, Inspiration