The Christophers: The Good Theif’s Lesson
Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.,
The Christophers’ Board of Directors
One of the great miracles of the Gospels is that the deepest wisdom is contained within the most straightforward kind of storytelling. The reason for this is revealed in Matthew, when, after lamenting the stubbornness of people in certain cities, Christ says, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.”
We see in these words Christ’s desire to share His wisdom not with those of worldly status but with the humble of heart. And in His very next statement, Christ reveals the ease with which those who are humble will enter the Kingdom of Heaven when He says, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
So, we see how humility leads to both wisdom and salvation, and the Gospels show that those who discover this way of humility can come from surprising places. In Luke’s account of Christ’s Passion, we discover the man who has come to be known as the Good Thief. Whatever brought him to that moment of being crucified alongside Christ, this man had the wisdom to understand his faults and to understand the difference between himself and God.
After another man being crucified beside them hurled insults at Christ, the Good Thief rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” To this, Christ responded, ”Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
In this simple yet profound narrative, Christ reinforces the ease with which the humble of heart will enter His Kingdom. We also see how humility led the Good Thief into the wisdom of Christ because his question to the other criminal being crucified, “Do you not fear God?” foreshadows one of the most complex and misunderstood fruits of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
In the days that followed Christ’s crucifixion, the fruits of His sacrifice manifested themselves in His Resurrection and His subsequent revelations to the Apostles, culminating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them at Pentecost. Yet, before all of that happened, the Good Thief preached what is perhaps the most misunderstood of those gifts of the Holy Spirit: the fear of the Lord. It’s a teaching with deep roots in the Hebrew tradition, but the Good Thief had the wisdom to apply this to Christ on the cross because it marked a moment when such teachings gained their fullest meaning.
Fear of the Lord is not about being afraid of God; it is about the awe we are to have before God. For those who understand, there has never been a more awe-inspiring life than that of Christ’s. May we all have the humility of the Good Thief to sit in awe of what Christ endured for us and have the wisdom to understand we are loved by God and welcomed into His Kingdom.
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