The Thief Who Stole Paradise

The Thief Who Stole Paradise

“Today you will be with me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].

The scriptures of Holy Week are very special to me; it’s a week in which I enjoy very deep and meaningful reflections, doing as Mary did, treasuring these things and pondering them in my heart. But there is one that really stood out for me, touching me in much the same way as the Parable of the prodigal son, especially since it highlights, beyond any shadow of doubt, that there is always hope and redemption is always within reach, even when facing the end of life. It is the scripture of the thief who stole paradise.

Crucified with Jesus were two thieves, one on either side. Unlike Jesus, these were not innocent men. They were condemned to the horrible death by crucifixion for a reason, and their crimes were most certainly considered to be of the highest magnitude. They were regarded as bad men, criminals.

One of the thieves, dying on a cross on one side of Jesus, joined in the jeering begun by the soldiers and taken up by bystanders. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us” [Luke 23:39]. His taunting was akin to what we call the tall poppy syndrome, trying to drag others down to our own level. He sneered at the inability of Jesus to do anything despite the exalted sign on his cross, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

But on the thief on the other side would have none of it. “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?” He saw something about Jesus that no one else saw and in that instant regained his own sense of right and wrong. A dying, condemned man, life ebbing from him, looked across and saw not another dying man, but the Messiah, the Saviour himself. This man was given the grace to see what so many others that day could not – the true identity of Jesus the Christ. And he made a confession: “Indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

Then the most amazing thing happened. The thief, who was witness to the words of forgiveness Jesus gave to those who crucified him, spoke again, in a voice that would have been heard by all the bystanders and soldiers – a plea for mercy and forgiveness: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Kingdom? How can this quality of faith exist at such a dark time? Already darkness is falling over the land, and yet a dying thief believes. WOW!

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote: “The two thieves judged themselves. The one asked to be taken down, the other asked to be taken up… In the whole gospel is there any faith comparable to that of this man? … The thief died a thief, for he stole paradise.”

The response of Jesus was unique: a clear unequivocal promise given to the repentant thief – “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What a wonderful promise: presence with Christ in paradise!

The thief, after stealing material things, also stole heaven as his last act. What an incredible story of grace. From a just condemnation to unmerited eternal salvation, the thief who stole heaven is a revelation of the power of grace, a revelation of the reality of the cross. It is what Easter is all about – an undeserving soul like me having an indescribable opportunity of having heaven as heritage.

Although Jesus feels forsaken, even by the Father [Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34] as he bears our sins and brings redemption that makes us whole, he does not die alone. The Father gives him a believer to be with him; a believer with mighty faith; a believer who wants “in.” Jesus answers him as life on earth wanes, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It is a promise made to each of us. It is about an unrestricted access of grace that lies before us. Jesus refuses to treat us as we deserve to be treated. Regardless of what you have done and whom you have been, if you can see what the thief saw; if you can do what he did; then you will be where he is. What faith! What a promise! What a privilege! What glory!

There is always hope and redemption is always within reach. We get to heaven not because we are good. We get to heaven because God is good. We are saved by the cross and we can steal paradise. Have a golden day and treasure life!