Churches have crosses, Jesus is on the cross, and we worship Jesus. Sounds like crosses have something to do with worship. Who are those two other guys on crosses? Why don't we worship them? Aren't they the other members of the Holy Trinity or something?Carol told me about this, and I thought, "What a great question!" It's one kind of question that the North American church is by and large not addressing.
When we talk to people about Jesus -- whether individually or in large or small groups -- we often assume a lot of background knowledge: that the cross was a cruel method of execution, that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, this sort of thing. As we talk to people from different cultures (in particular, people who don't have the background knowledge the church has typically assumed), we'll need to be prepared for questions like that.
That incident came to mind because today's New Testament reading is about that grisly scene, and this exchange in particular:
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"What do you think about those criminals? I wonder what kind of lives they had growing up, whether ordinary or exceptionally miserable (or exceptionally pleasant). What dreams did their parents have for them?
40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."from Luke 23:39-43
And when did things start going wrong? What kinds of things had people said to him during his life? "You'll never amount to anything," maybe? What kind of names did people call him?
I don't envy their lives, but I can't help thinking that the second criminal had an enviable measure of happiness and joy in his death. He found faith in God, faith in Jesus. And when he asked Jesus to "remember me" -- What did that mean? "Take pity on me" maybe? -- and heard Jesus's answer, what must he have felt?
As he breathed his last, I'm sure that the curses and hardships in his life had faded, and that Jesus's words were what rang in his ears: "Today you will be with me in paradise."
At the end of my life, I want to be thinking about that, too. Not that I've had any hardships at all compared to these guys, but at the end I want to be looking forward to the joy of paradise with Jesus.