An Honest Thief

Passion (Palm) Sunday, Year C

First of all welcome to Holy Week. As I reflected on the Passion according to St. Luke, especially the final scene of Jesus crucified between the two criminals, I remembered a visit to a prison. I had received a donation of rosaries--about two hundred. I knew there were a few more than two hundred prisoners, but I also knew that a number of them were political prisoners who adhered to the communist philosophy and figured they would not want one. When I finished Mass, I asked the men who wanted a rosary to line up and one by one I placed them around their necks. The line seemed to grow and when I got down to just one rosary there were ten guys left. I said, "I am sorry. I do not know what to do."

One of the prisoners said, "Padre, you have to give that rosary to me."

"Why?" I asked.

"Look, Father, I am thief. I admit it. That is why I am here. But I am not like these political guys over here. At least I am an honest thief!"

Well, even the "political guys" laughed and I placed the rosary over his head. He smiled with a full set of crooked teeth, then took the crucifix of the rosary in his hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it.

One of the two men crucified with Jesus was also an "honest thief." He was brave enough to confess to Jesus who he was. If we were honest, we would also have admit we had taken things that do not belong to us. You know, it is not just the one who steals money or shoplifts who is a thief. The person who has sex apart from marriage is taking something that does not belong to him. Even if if you call it "living together" it is still stealing. The same with the husband who spends all his time with buddies; he is robbing his wife and children. The person whose motto is "shop till I drop" and who never thinks about the needy is stealing from the poor. I could multiply examples until everyone here, including the one speaking to you, recognizes he is a thief.

This is not a question of a "guilt trip." It's a simple matter of saying to Jesus who we really are. The second criminal refused to do that. All his life he had practiced "self-reliance." Now he had one final opportunity to put aside that false self, to rely instead on God. But he chose to mock Jesus. Perhaps he thought, "no one has a right to judge me." He didn't realize the true judge hung on the cross right next to him.

It's possible for us to be so convinced of our own "self-esteem" our own rightness, that we lose everything. The first step is always the courage and the honesty to face who we are. A good companion for us this Holy Week is the honest thief. The one we have always called "the good thief." He is recognized as a saint of our Church. It takes a certain humility, which is hard. Like the good thief, we need to say to Jesus, "Remember me."

If we keep those words on our lips, we will make it to Easter Sunday. Like the good thief we'll hear Jesus' beautiful words "today you will be with me in paradise." To remind us of our goal, I encourage you to take home your blessed palm branches. They are a symbol of victory. Place them behind the crucifix in your bedroom or living room. They will help remember that thru the cross we arrive at resurrection. Thru Good Friday we reach Easter Sunday.

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