The eleventh Station of the Cross takes place while Jesus is on the cross, and is a conversation between him and the two criminals hanging with him. The NRSV reads:
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
And The Message says:
One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”
But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”
He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
This is a passage that I really hadn’t paid much attention to before. When I’ve been reading through Luke’s gospel, it’s an interchange, and it’s nice and all, but I was ready for the good stuff, for the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. Of course, the point of reflecting on the Stations of the Cross each day has been to slow down, to take each short little snippet of scripture and spend time with it.
What really sang out for me from this passage today was the very last sentence, where Jesus says, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise. There is plenty of discussion about what happens to us when we die. Do we go straight to heaven… or to the other place? Do we just sort of “sleep” until the end time, until Jesus returns? Do we go to purgatory? Are we just annihilated, ceasing to be? Faithful Christians disagree. Scholars disagree. Each individual seems to have a unique take on the question, just as each individual is a unique reflection of God. So when Jesus says here that today the thief will join him in the kingdom — does this mean that Jesus is bringing the man straight to heaven with him? It continues to be a mystery, since we cannot know the answer, but it is a fascinating one.
Today, with the good thief, I pray: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. These words are a song, a chant from the Taizé Community in France to bring us deeply into our prayer.