“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

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

Then he said, “Jesus, remember (μνήσθητί, mnesthsti) me when You come into Your kingdom.”

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

What does it mean to remember? Throughout the course of any given day we use this verb varioulsy to recall facts and knowledge of varying importance as well as the place of lost objects such as one’s keys, wallet or glasses. In common usage, remember is used synonymously for the acts of finding, retrieving and recalling to name only a few. But in the Gospel episode proclaimed this Sunday, a comdemned, crucified and dying man calls out with a seemingly strange request: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” What does this criminal want from Jesus? What does his request to remember mean? Is he asking Jesus ‘to find him’ or to ‘recall him as a fact or item of knowledge’? An insight lies once again in exploring the deeper meaning of Sacred Scripture’s salvific Word.

Within the Gospel according to Saint Luke there are a number of events where the Greek verb (μνάομαι, mnaomai) conveys a sense of intellectual recall. For example, “Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” (Luke 16:25) “Remember the wife of Lot. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” (Luke 17:32-33) In these 2 examples, the act of remembering (μνάομαι, mnaomai) is synonymous to recalling previously acquired information or knowledge.

Elsewhere though, the use of remembering seems to imply more than an intellectual act of recalling. Mary, for example, sings the praises of God: “He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:54-55) “Remembering his mercy” as a mere intellectual act does not seem to make much sense. Afterall, mercy is not an idea, thought, concept or notion. Mercy, especially as embodied and lived in Jesus, is an act of providing another with all that is needed to live life fully. Whether the act be a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, there is a clear emphasis on doing an action. The thirsty will not have their thirst slaked by recalling the thought of water. The hungry will not have a groaning stomach silenced and satisfied by recalling the idea of food. To remember in this context is about a particular doing. Consider another example: “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory (ἀνάμνησιν, anamnesin) of me.”” In the setting of the Last Supper, Jesus commands that the actions of taking, breaking, blessing and giving are to be done (imperative mood!) “in memory (ἀνάμνησιν, anamnesin) of me.” Here, memory is coupled to an imperative: doing. Jesus does NOT command intellectual recall of what He is doing as an idea, thought, concept or notion. He commands a specific action which leads to an obvious question, what is the action?

Linguistic scholars note that the Greek verb μνάομαι (mnaomai) is used often in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures dating to the time of Alexander the Great) to translate the Hebrew verb זָכַר (zakar). זָכַר (zakar) certainly expresses the various actions involved in recalling data, facts, knowledge, etc... But זָכַר (zakar) goes beyond mere recall in that it grapples with the ‘why’ of recall. In other words, why does data have to be recalled? What do facts have to be retrieved? Why does knowledge have to be recalled? A response suggested by זָכַר (zakar) is that these actions have to be done because one has lost a connection. Data, facts and knowledge are no longer present to one in his or her conscious sphere of living. A break has occured severing a connection. Admittedly, when this ‘break’ involves keys, wallet or glasses it is not necessarily a matter of life or death but rather an inconvenience and irritation that hopefully is temporary. However, when this ‘break’ involves persons inconvenience and irritation are the least of the concerns: life is on the line.

The revered Rabbi, Abraham Heschel, often remarked that Israel’s greatest sin in the desert was not necessarily idolatry. It was ‘forgetting’ God and His mighty deeds that resulted in a rupture in the covenant relationship Israel enjoyed with her God causing other realities to occupy God’s place (idolatry). Throughout the sacred pages of the Torah and the Psalms, Israel is enjoyed to זָכַר (zakar) - remember in the sense of re-connect, re-join, re-esatblish the relationship of life with the Other that results when one permits selfishness to be cut from the heart through ongoing repentance and conversion. More than a mere abstract retaining of an idea, thought, concept זָכַר (zakar) is an earthy doing - a doing of whatever is necessary to put back ‘the member’ that has been separated, to re-establish the relationships necessary for full human living.

And so, this final Sunday of Ordinary Time has a guilty criminal pleading with an innocent Victim condemned to the same death ‘to member him’ - to join him as a person with the King and Author of life. The ‘penitent‘ or ‘good thief’ knows his reality - separation, alienation and the resulting lifeless that flows naturally from these realities. The cry from the depths of his being “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” is an acknowledgement that he cannot restore the needed connection to reverse alienation and separation. He cannot heal the break he is responsible for causing. But, the Crucified King of Love — Jesus the Christ — can and does with the pronouncement of a most powerful command: AMEN! — ‘Be re-connected... be re-established... be re-joined... be re-constituted. Be re-membered to Me.’