Reign of Christ Sunday
“Today in Paradise”
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. One mocked Jesus, but “the other” said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I got stuck on that first word: “today.” I was distracted by theo-logical questions. Does this mean that we go to heaven immediately after we die? I thought Paul said we would be asleep in Jesus. And what about that final judgment day—how does that . . .
I almost missed the next part, where Jesus says, “You will be with me in Paradise.” Wait, what? Jesus will be with him in Paradise? Why? Based on what? Based on his declaration of faith? All he said was, “This man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong”—in other words, “He’s not as bad as we are.” That’s it? Come on, we have to have some standards, don’t we?
So, even though this passage was the one I was assigned, I decided to look at today’s other reading, Jeremiah 23. I was glad I did. I found a clue to help clear up my confusion. There, God rebukes the shep-herds who are scattering God’s sheep and driving them away (most likely based on their convictions and with the best of intentions!), and God says, “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.”
I’m not in charge of the guest list. God is! And amazingly, God chooses to welcome “the other” criminal next to Jesus to be with Jesus in Paradise. But maybe what should truly amaze me is not just that Jesus Christ— the King, the one who reigns—would, for whatever reason, choose to welcome “the other,” but rather that Jesus Christ would choose to welcome . . . me!
Sam Gray, Director of Intercultural Ministries and New Work,
Board of World Mission