A simple act of faith brought a criminal to Paradise in Luke 23:35-43. What will be our route to Paradise?
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We often forget what the goal of life is. It isn’t just to get along until we perish. By the measure of the Gospels, it is to live a life so that when we do perish, we reach Paradise.
Here is the story of Jesus on the Cross and beside Him are the two criminals. One is mocking, the other is adoring. One challenged Jesus, the other made an act of faith in Jesus, an act of love, saving his soul.
Whether or not we recognize it, we make faith choices every day. They come in how we live our lives in response to Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. It isn’t enough to say we believe in Jesus or that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Although, both of those are important, too. Rather, it is also in how we respond to others in our daily lives.
As you have done to the least among us so you have done to me. That’s a paraphrase, but it’s close to what Jesus said in his Gospels. If you have mocked the disabled or failed to provide for the poor or not given aid to the sick, so you have done to Jesus. Jesus said in another Gospel passage that it isn’t enough to have killed someone to have broken God’s law, but so too if you have been angry with your neighbor; thus, if you have been angry against your neighbor, have you not acted so against Jesus?
When you act on your neighbor, remember Jesus. He calls on us above all to love God and to love our neighbor. He said they are equally important commandments. Act on your neighbor as if he or she were Jesus. Love them as if they were Jesus. Make it a selfless act.
The second criminal in this story from Luke was responding to the perfect loving Christ. His reward was to join Jesus in Paradise at their death. Is that not a promise of Paradise for us when we act justly and respond with Christ’s love? In other Gospel passages, when Jesus heals someone or aids someone, he tells them, “By your faith you have been saved.” How can it be any less so when we show our faith through love?