The Wonder of Salvation

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:42-43

 There is this really beautiful thing about the stories and letters and poems in this book … but I don’t find the beauty at its purest in intense academic study … and I don’t find beauty by reading the Bible like a newspaper—trying to extract from its pages without bias every detail of every story.

No, what is beautiful about this book are often its holes … the questions that simply refuse to be answered in the text … and whether we want to or not; whether we think that it is heretical or not … this book simply does not allow us to engage it without the use of our imagination … without the use of these two words that open so many doors:

“I wonder …”

And here, in Luke’s telling of the story of the cross, I wonder what the next line of dialogue would have been … what did the criminal think? How might he have responded?

Here we have this menace to society who is literally in the process of being executed for crimes against humanity.

I know you’ve all probably experienced this before—It’s as if once he had crossed the threshold of opening his mouth, more ended up coming out of it than he had intended to actually say.

It is only after the other criminal has begun hurling insults at Jesus that the co-crucified finds the courage to speak. The criminal’s first words are spoken to the other thief … in defense of Jesus …

“Do you not fear God…? We have been condemned justly … we are getting what we deserve … but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And then, I imagine, he turns his head … or maybe he doesn’t … maybe he’s too ashamed of himself even to look Jesus in the eyes …

In either case, our nameless criminal has opened the floodgates and out come the words that I doubt he had intended to speak, but once he had started …

Addressing the crucified King more intimately than anyone else ever does in any of the gospel stories … simply calling by his first name … “Jesus, remember me…”

Not, “get me down from here” … Not, “Jesus, save me” … because certainly that would be too much to ask for a sinner such as he was.

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom”

And then, this dying, condemned criminal receives the grace of becoming the last human being to whom our Lord speaks before giving up his spirit.

Wonder at these words with the condemned:

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise

The text simply moves on here … as if there was no response given.  Maybe he was awestruck … maybe Luke just chose to leave it out … or maybe upon hearing Jesus’ word the criminal actually died …

We don’t know … its not in here … but something had to have happened …

Think about what he had just heard from Jesus himself.

His wheels had to be spinning … we read it now and can’t figure out what Jesus meant … and we’re not hanging on a cross … waiting to die … wondering at our fate … or maybe we are.

Jesus … are you really talking to me?  I … a condemned criminal… will be in paradise? That’s too much … I don’t deserve it and I wasn’t asking for charity … I couldn’t … what is it like … is today really today?

But its simply not there … it is a hole … and Luke isn’t stupid … it is a hole on purpose.

Because when Jesus talks about salvation, which is what Jesus is doing here with his very last breaths, the only appropriate response is Wonder.  You can’t describe it …

What is paradise?

I don’t know … but I know its good!  Jesus didn’t explain it, He just promised it, and in that promise of salvation, the criminal receives the invitation … and the freedom to wonder.

And when you are hanging on a cross, waiting to die, maybe the best thing that anyone could do for you is to take your mind on a field trip to paradise.

I wonder what it’s going to look like … and smell like, and feel like and taste like …

I wonder …

~ by Will Norman on April 22, 2011.

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