The Good Thief
What a curious request the good thief makes as he hangs on his cross there beside Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It seems an odd thing to say because the thief is perfectly aware that his fate is sealed: an excruciating death will snuff out his life within a few short hours. He must also realize that Jesus, nailed to a cross himself, is powerless to help either of them. Nevertheless, the thief gently and reverently pleads, “Jesus, remember me.”
To someone without faith, the condemned man’s appeal must have seemed pointless, if not absurd. Nevertheless, anyone steeped in the Hebrew faith would have recognized the request as something profoundly theological. The thief is tapping into a deep vein of Jewish piety. You see, what the thief asked of Jesus -- that Jesus remember him – is precisely what God is supposed to do. Remembering is God’s work. The Old Testament records more than two dozen instances where God is said to do just that; God remembering people, God remembering his promises.
I much prefer the Spanish word for remember, recordar. In English, memory seems to be located somewhere up here in the head. “I call to mind some person or some event.” Recordar, on the other hand, situates memory squarely in the heart. Re-cor-dar. Here is the cor—the corazon, or heart. In Spanish, memory involves not simply calling to mind some person but holding that person in the deepest recesses of one’s heart. That’s how God remembers people. That’s how God remembers you and me: by cradling us deep within his heart. That’s what the good thief had in mind when he asked Jesus to remember him. He was saying, Although I’m a sinner, Jesus, hold me in your heart. And let your heart be moved to help me somehow. When the good thief pleaded “Jesus remember me,” he was saying, Jesus take me and my pain into your heart and then, somehow, I know I will be at peace.
In those moments when we realize how half-heartedly we sometimes live as Christian spouses, or parents, or disciples, let the words of that prayer rise to our lips: “Jesus, remember me. Remember how—deep in my heart of hearts—I do want to be good and loving and faithful.” When we feel overworked and underappreciated, let us pray: “Jesus, remember me. Caress my wounded heart within your sacred heart, and help me to remember how much you love me.” When we are overwhelmed by anxiety or pain: “Jesus remember me. Take my pain into your heart. Ease my fear and let me feel your peace.” Why not take a moment today to consider the great love, compassion and understanding in which God is holding you within his heart at this very moment.
- Father Bill Kelley, S.J. (used with permission)