Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflection: "Today, you will be with me..."

"Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

The good thief is assured that he will go to heaven.  Despite his sin, he will make it into Paradise.  All he has to do is die with Christ.

I often forget that part of the story.  The good thief had to die with Christ to gain everlasting life.  What a wonder, to die alongside God.  Only two men ever had the chance.  But only one was promised heaven, because only one repented.  What is the lesson?

It is not enough to simply suffer and die, even alongside Christ.  We must suffer and die with Christ, in union with Him, or our suffering is in vain.  We must unite our suffering with His, and to do that we must first repent.  We cannot unite ourselves to Christ if we do not repent.  You cannot take a man's hand if your own hands are curled into fists.  You cannot accept eternal life if you do not first let go of your sin.

We are going to suffer in this life.  It is unavoidable.  The question is, shall we suffer alongside Christ or with Christ?

To be alongside Christ is to recognize He is there and then to shut him out.  We do not like the demands He makes of us: purity, generosity, humility, constant prayer, seeking and granting forgiveness.  Or maybe we participate in certain rituals and acts of charity not because we love Him, but because we gain some benefit from doing so.  Or perhaps we know all about Him, but do not take the time to know Him.  There are many things that can put us in this position; each one a crystalline barrier that let's us see Christ but not touch Him.

To be with Christ is to repent, and thus shatter the barrier and embrace Him.  And be embraced by Him.  To live with Christ is to try to conform our wills to His Will in everything, including our finances, our sexuality, and our leisure.  To suffer with Christ is to have compassion for others, to make sacrifices for strangers, and to accept physical pain and weakness as an opportunity for spiritual renewal.  To die with Christ is to give Him everything we have, everything we are, and let Him use that gift as He chooses.

The bitter truth is that we are all thieves.  We have stolen pleasures that do not belong to us.  We have misused gifts that do belong to us.  We have lied to ourselves and each other about our condition.  But we know the truth.  We all sin.  We all suffer.  We all die.  We all are sentenced to Crucifixion.  And Christ is there, waiting for us on the cross, inviting us to join Him in Paradise.  Only one question remains.

Will we merely die alongside Christ, or will we die with Him?

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