Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
(This post is part of a Lenten series on praying the Stations of the Cross - a devotional practice that is said to have started with Mary after the death and resurrection of Jesus. To start at the beginning, see the overview provided on March 5, 2023, and then go from there!)
These criminals are guilt looking at absolution personified, and the second criminal understood that. Was he the luckiest sinner in the world, crucified next to the savior of the world who was forgiving the whole world in that very moment? We are all the luckiest sinners.
It’s almost always a temptation to lash out with sarcasm when we're suffering, to mock those we thought would help us in a particular way, and that's what the first criminal did. Helping professionals like me know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of patients’ sarcastic lashing out when there is no magic wand to make their suffering instantly vanish. We all know what it’s like to feel disappointed and angry when things don’t seem to be getting better in the particular way we wanted.
So yes, it can be hard to see the salvation we need in the midst of suffering, even when it is right in front of us, because we're angry. How did the second thief manage to see Jesus' divine salvation, hanging on the cross next to him? Somehow, he had cultivated the readiness to receive God’s goodness in the hour that he needed it most. In the Parable of the Sower, this man was the one with good soil, ready to receive God's word, despite the thieving ways that got him crucified.
Do the consequences of our sin sometimes get us stuck next to Jesus, the only One we need in that moment to free our souls? Freedom for this thief, stuck next to Jesus, was not about being let off the hook or relieved of his suffering. For him and for us, freedom is about recognizing Jesus and asking him for what we need – intimate relationship with God as we participate in his eternal Kingdom. Cultivating good soil, ready to receive forgiveness when it is offered.
A note about mindfulness
Mindfulness helps me recognize the good that is right in front of me, even when I am pulled toward sarcastic rejection of what seems too painful or disappointing to bear. It helps me take the long view, noticing what is in the moment while also noticing that it is not the whole picture. All of this can expand my ability to see beyond my pain to also see God who loves me, creating freedom from the tyranny of self-obsession, opening up space for intimate connection with God.
(For a list of mindfulness practices that can help reduce self-obsession and sarcastic resistance to the moment, check out the Guides for Practice available here.)
I am Irene Kraegel. I am licensed as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based university campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
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