The Penitent Thief,
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
When I was a teen, the story of the penitent
thief on the cross was one of my favorites. I knew all about “salvation,” having
been raised in the pews of a Baptist church. But I had never made that ultimate
commitment to God. The story of the thief gave me comfort, because if he could
receive salvation in the hour of his death, then there was hope for me.
In fact, I believe my plan back then was to live my life the way I pleased
and as I felt the end of my life approaching, I would quick pray the sinner’s
prayer (which I knew by heart) and ….. be with him “in paradise today!”
The only flaw to my plan, I thought back then, was the possibility of a
sudden death via accident in which case I wouldn’t be able to “reel off” my
last-minute salvation prayer. Oops.
As silly as this thinking seems to me today, I wonder how many folks actually
think like that. I sometimes wonder if the story of the penitent thief on the
cross is really that great of a lesson. The hour of death is certainly is not
the ideal time to find salvation.
After all, doesn’t it matter how we live? What about Matthew 25 where Jesus
is said to separate the good and the bad at the end of time based on their good
deeds--or lack thereof.
Maybe there is a misunderstanding here. Jesus said to the thief: "Truly I say
to you, today you shall be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
Paradise—that’s not the word commonly used for heaven, is it? Paradise is
most commonly associated with the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived.
Maybe, Jesus didn’t really promise heaven to the penitent thief?
I only found the word paradise used in two other places in the NT:...