Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:42 (NIV)
Just last week I read a news blurb of a convict who was executed. It was your typical news flash on such stories in which just the basic facts were starkly recounted with little embellishment. Years ago, he was convicted of murdering his own wife. Before he died he expressed regret for what he’d done. He apologized to his loved ones, acknowledging the he understood why they couldn’t forgive him, but expressing the hope that they might someday be able to do so. He then said that he couldn’t wait to meet Jesus. He was given a lethal injection and died a few minutes later.
Fascinating. For some reason, I’ve found those few lines of news unusually coming to mind in the days since I read it. There’s more to that story.
Today’s chapter is Dr. Luke’s account of Jesus’ execution. Much like the news blurb, it recounts many facts with little embellishment. What embellishments Luke adds create more questions in me than answers.
With the eye of a playwright and storyteller, I find myself making a mental list of the characters in the story and how they contribute to the narrative.
Jesus, the lamb led to slaughter, refusing to speak or offer a defense.
Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish religious leaders are the power brokers playing their own chess matches of personal power, public opinion, and political intrigue.
Jesus twelve appointed male disciples and heirs to His earthly ministry are the key characters not present (John was there, according to his own account, but Luke does not record this).
The oft forgotten women who have traveled with Jesus, supported Jesus, and provided for Jesus and his disciples are there at a distance, witnessing the execution. This includes Jesus’ mother. One of the women is, ironically, the wife of the head of Herod’s household.
The Roman soldiers are carrying out their duty and having their sport with the victims. As an added perk they get their choice of the victims’ spoils.
The presiding military officer, a Centurion, is observing.
Then there are the three executed convicts.
What struck me was the convict who was crucified next to Jesus and came to Jesus’ defense. The only character in the entire saga of the passion who comes to Jesus’ defense is a convicted, guilty (by his own confession) death-row inmate. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he said.
How did he know about Jesus’ kingdom?
There’s more to this story.
Had he been among the crowds in Galilee, or in the temple courts, who heard Jesus teach? Had he and Jesus spent time talking in a holding cell as they waited to hear the Roman soldier announce “Dead man walking.”
I find so much intriguing about this man. Jesus didn’t explain the Four Spiritual Laws and lead the man in the sinner’s prayer. Jesus only defense was to one of the weakest and least powerful characters in the story, an executed criminal by another executed criminal. The only act in this man’s “death-bed conversion” was simply to acknowledge Jesus before another convict, and humbly ask to be remembered.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the spoken faith of two guilty, convicted, executed criminals. I find myself thinking about my own guilt. I find myself thinking about Jesus’ repeated teachings about simple, small faith being all that is required. It is indicated from the story that this is true no matter the moral standing of the one expressing such simple faith.
Sometimes I think that we religious humans complicate things that Jesus presented as very simple.