Bottom line: The Good Thief shows that, with Jesus, it is never too late to make a new beginning.
Today is Christ the King Sunday - the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. Next Sunday - the First Sunday of Advent - we begin a new Liturgical Year. Each year is dominated by one of the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. We read the Fourth Gospel - St. John - during Lent, Easter and a few other times throughout the three years. This year we have been reading from St. Luke's Gospel. Beginning next Sunday we will normally take our Gospel readings from St. Matthew.
So we are at the end of a year. It is appropriate that today we have the Gospel of the Good Thief. He illustrates that, with Jesus, it is never too late to make a new beginning. He was a man, who in his final agony, found salvation. Before examining what happened on his final day, we should remember what was a thief back then. He wasn't just some shady character who picked a pocket or grabbed a purse. In Jesus' day, thieves hid in the hill country, living in caves, armed to the teeth with knives and clubs. They attacked travelers, beating them up, robbing them and tossing them in a ditch to die. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus describes a man attacked by robbers. A thief in Jesus' day was no Robin Hood. He was feared - and despised. The Romans gained public favor by bringing such people to justice.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves. The crowds probably looked at it as guilt by association - but for Jesus these are two men with eternal souls. One, unfortunately, had become hardened and embittered. But the other had an amazing conversion.* He accepted his own guilt: "We have been condemned justly," he said, "the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes." Then he made an act of faith: "Jesus, remember me."
The Good Thief should encourage us. No matter what we have done, no matter how we have messed things us, Jesus offers us hope - the possibility of new beginning.
He gives us a second chance not only at the hour of our death, but every day. When you think about about, God has ordered things so that we are invited each day to make a fresh start. Sleep resembles death - an act of letting go, which we cannot escape. And when we awake, it is like birth: we gradually see a world around us, filled with possibilities. Each day we have a chance to make a new beginning.** When we dedicate the day to Jesus, he removes the limits from our horizon of possibilities. He makes all things new.
This is something for us to think about as we end a liturgical year and - next Sunday - begin a new liturgical cycle. It is a good moment to face our sins - our need for Jesus, the new person we can become in him. And to say to him, "Jesus, remember me."
*St. Luke does not tell us what prepared him for such a marvelous conversion. Early Christians asked what sensed that something must have laid the basis for the Good Thief's turning to Jesus. The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour recounts that the Good Thief encountered the Holy Family as they fled to Egypt. Something about the Child restrained him from robbing them and gave an intimation that they would encounter under very different circumstances. Each believer is free to decide how much weight to give to those traditions. Whatever their historical merit, they speak to something we all perceive: that our daily decisions lay the foundation for one great decision.
**If you want to see a wonderful movie about getting a second chance, I recommend Bella.
From Archives (Christ the King Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
(November of 2010)
Bulletin (Good News in Stem Cell Research; Six Myths of Atheism & Philip Pullman's Golden Compass; First Anniversary Mass for Deputy Steve Cox)
Catholicism at a Glance
by Fr. Raymond Cleaveland
Pictures of Earthquake Relief
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
(Pilgrimage to Molokai)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated November 2013)
Article about Fund Raising Event for Mary Bloom Center (Spanish)