— The Lord’s Day —

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Pondering the
Father’s Victorious Word: Jesus

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ (ὁ χριστός, ho Christos)?
Save (σῶσον, soson) 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 (μνήσθητι, mnesthsti) me
when You come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

As the term synoptic expresses, there are certainly notable similarities among Mark, Matthew and Luke. From the start of His Public Ministry through His Passion, Death and Resurrection Mark, Matthew and Luke present the deeds and words of Jesus through the lens of a single or ‘one eye.’ The ‘other eye’ though sees differences among the 3 Evangelists that set each apart from one another and these differences can help offer a particular insight or two that draw each of us more deeply into the heart of the Paschal Mystery, more deeply into the very life of Jesus.

Saint Luke records the words and deeds of Jesus as a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem marked by moving moments of table fellowship, offering all who come to His table hospitality that nourishes and sustains body and soul while reconciling one to His Father and one another. When encountering Jesus at the table, “enemies speak to each other again, adversaries join hands and peoples seek to meet together.” In addition, at His table “hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness and discord is changed to mutual respect (Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II).” Even on the threshold of breathing His last breath, Jesus continuously offers His unique hospitality that reconciles each person with and to His Father as the ‘Good Thief’ marvelously discovered.

The irony of the episode is that the ‘other’ crucified man asks a question that gets to the heart of faith: “Are You not the Christ?” At face value the question is ambiguous, devoid of any attitude or disposition. It is the “rebuke” of the ‘Good Thief’ that colors the question and initiates a conversation that extends the promise of Paradise, ultimate act of hospitality. Saint Leo comments in Sermon 53: “Until now, one [thief] was the equal in all things of his companion. He was a robber on the roads and always a danger to the safety of people. Deserving the cross, he suddenly becomes a confessor of Christ…. “Remember me, Lord, when you enter into your kingdom.” … Then came the gift in which faith itself received a response. Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This promise surpasses the human condition, because it did not come so much from the wood of a cross as from a throne of power. From that height, he gives a reward to faith. There he abolishes the debt of human transgression, because the “form of God” did not separate itself from the “form of a servant.” Even in the middle of this punishment, both the inviolable divinity and the suffering human nature preserved its own character and its own oneness.”

“In the middle of this punishment,” the plea “remember me?” The direct word of the ‘other thief’ appears on target: “Save yourself and us!” His word to Jesus is an imperative: short, blunt and to the point. σώζω (sozo), the Greek verb that means “to save,” “to deliver from danger to safety” or “to protect,” is the basis for the biblical experience of “salvation.” Is not the request for “salvation” a proper one, especially on the lips of a sinner seeking reconciliation from Jesus? Absolutely. But it seems (and ‘seems’ is extremely important here because human language can never express a limit to the Father’s mercy) that the ‘other thief’ has missed the point. He literally wants to be delivered from danger: suffering and death that will come from crucifixion. The ‘Good Thief’ wants to be “remembered,” a request that may sound odd to the western ear.

Steeped within the rich experience of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, “remembering” is a crucial response to the Covenant. zakar (זָכַר) is the Hebrew verb translated into English as “to remember.” For the Israelites, the act of “remembering” was far more than a neurological event of recalling a fact. zakar expresses “remembering” in the sense of ‘re-connecting,’ ‘re-joining,’ re-establishing.’ More than mental activity, zakar involves the whole person – body and soul – being ‘re-membered’ to a body. In a rather graphic way, zakar is the re-attaching of limbs that have been severed from the body. Once attached, the limbs ‘come to life’ and serve the needs of the whole. The ‘Good Thief’ is making the proper request – ‘graft me onto You, Jesus Who are the Christ.’ Even more remarkable is the additional meaning conveyed by the Greek verb μιμνήσκω (mimnesko). Translated here as “remember,” the Greek verb μιμνήσκω (mimnesko) not only reflects the Old Testament sense of zakar, it is also related to another Greek verb, very important in Johannine theology: μένω (meno). μένω (meno), meaning “to remain,” and expressing ‘abiding presence.’

Thus the Good Thief’s request is more than ‘spot-on,’ it expresses the very essence of Jesus’ ministry. His was and continues to be a work to ‘re-connect’ each of us with His Father in a way that the Divine Persons continuously abide within each person, animating and infusing each of us with such a life and love that our only way of living is gracious, charitable service to Our Lord and to one another. Eyes riveted on Jesus Christ crucified during this sacred time of Holy Week puts all of life in a proper perspective. With all that Jesus did for each one of us, how can I and we not sing and live, “Jesus – remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!”