November 20, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
November 20, 2016
Fr. George Smiga
Today’s gospel presents us with the story of the criminal who was hanging next to Jesus on the cross, the good thief. The story lasts only a few verses, but it is one of the clearest and most powerful expressions of the gospel. It assures us that God is present to us in every situation. It is easy to see how God is present to us in times of joy or success. When we experience the birth of a son or a daughter, when we celebrate a fiftieth wedding anniversary, when we receive a promotion we have been working on for a long time, we can quickly say God is here, loving me. But today’s gospel assures us that God’s presence is not limited to the good times. God is present to us also in times of pain and despair.
It would be hard to imagine a more hopeless situation than that of the thief hanging next to Jesus. His life is a waste, a life of crime. By his own admission he acknowledges that he has been justly condemned to death. Hanging on the cross, wracked with pain, we would expect that the last minutes of this man would be consumed by his suffering and despair. Yet, this criminal is able to see that which no one else on Calvary sees. He sees that the man hanging next to him is good and innocent, that the man hanging next to him has power, a power that extends beyond this dreadful moment. So he turns to Jesus and says, “Remember me.” Notice that he does not ask Jesus to save him. He does not even ask Jesus to help him. He simply says remember me—remember me in your goodness, remember me in your power. And Jesus responds in a way that goes beyond any expectation. Jesus gives this criminal Paradise.
God is present to us in every situation, even those that are dark and hopeless. When we find ourselves in such dire circumstances, it would be wise for us to follow the example of the good thief. Often in those difficult times we cannot find words to pray. We are not even sure of what to ask for. So, like the good thief, we should simply claim that God is here and ask God to remember us.
When someone we love walks out of our life, when a marriage in which we invested our life falls apart, we often do not know what to do or how to live again. In those circumstances we can simply say, “God, I know that you are here. Remember me.” When a child or a friend’s life is in disarray, when violence or drugs compromise their future, we do not know how to help or what to say. It is then that we should claim the truth that God is standing close to us and pray, “Jesus, remember me.” When you receive a bad diagnosis, when you know that you have to face months of treatment and pain, do not conclude that God has abandoned you. God is suffering next to you. Pray, “Remember me.”
Some would claim that the prayer of the good thief is weak, because it does not clearly or aggressively state what we need. But the strength of “remember me” is its trust. It believes that God is good and powerful and that God will do what is best. And if there is any truth to the gospel, it is the truth that God’s best is beyond our expectation and imagining. God gave Paradise to the good thief. So we should have confidence that we will not be disappointed when God remembers us.