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.”
In this Gospel reading many different groups are taking shots at Jesus. First it is the rulers, saying, “He saved others, let him save himself….” Notice that they aren’t even talking to our Lord, but talking about him—within his earshot. They have no respect. Then they specifically choose to mock his title as “the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Apparently they were expecting some sort of political revolutionary to be the Messiah—not Jesus. Likewise the soldiers are mocking him, saying, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” See how the soldiers are mocking him more brazenly: addressing him to his face. They think that our Lord’s claims are nonsensical unless he physically gets off the cross and “saves himself.” Lastly, one of the criminals who was sentenced to death near Jesus says, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” This is not a plea made in humility. This is a demand that seems to be made with the same kind of mockery.
It can be hard for us to understand the ways of God. For example, it can certainly be hard for us to understand suffering and it can be tempting to see evidence of it in the world and think, “If I were God, there wouldn’t be so much suffering.” And that’s exactly where we get things wrong when we start actually thinking, “If I were God….” God is good and God knows best. How do we know this? Simply, look at what Jesus did for us on the cross. God could have become man in order to be a self-serving king. There are plenty of examples of those throughout history. But God became man in order to suffer and die in our place so that we might have eternal life (see John 3:16).
This is the good news of the Gospel for all people who repent and believe. Just ask the “good thief.” He recognized that Jesus was different from him. He looked into the eyes of love and repented from his sin. He did not join the mockery but instead rebuked the other criminal, asking him, “Have you no fear of God…?” That’s the first step in repentance: recognizing that God is God and you are not. Then, he turns to our Lord and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He gets it: Jesus is the king of a more glorious kingdom than we can see on earth. And what does he get in return for confessing his guilt? Not mockery, not punishment, and not shame. Rather the criminal is admitted into the kingdom by the king himself.
Truly God’s ways . . . they are not our ways. Ask God for the grace to let him reign over every aspect of your life today.