"Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him...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.'" --Luke 23. 32, 39-43
Most Stations of the Cross do not deal with particular event. Jesus spoke to the two thieves who died alongside him on their crosses. One translation calls them insurgents. Another translation identifies them as robbers or bandits. Whatever we might call them Jesus once again found himself in the company of sinners. It was always that way. From the beginning of his ministry he told his critics he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. More than once his enemies whispered: “he has eaten with… sinners.” Another time his critics said, “He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” It was always that way. The woman at the well Jesus spoke to in the middle of the day. It just wasn’t done. The sobbing woman they threw at Jesus’ feet charging her with adultery. He refused to do what the law required. Zaccheus the shabby tax collector and the boy who strayed from into a far country—Jesus talked about both with enormous affection. And so it was altogether fitting that, at the end, as they crucified him on both sides were two thieves.
Try as we might to domesticate Jesus--how much we need the perspective of this tenth station. Even if Trayvon had been a thief I think the Lord would have wept at this story. And, I think too, with the man that shot him. Jesus was always comfortable with the dispossessed.
All four Gospel accounts mention the two thieves. But Luke alone points out that one thief asked for mercy from Jesus while the other died with a curse on his lips. Our artist, Cecile Martin comments on this particular Station: "Consider the good thief and the bad thief as one. He, they, represent the two aspects of our nature."We are all a mixture of good and bad, sinners and sometimes would be saints. Jesus’ stretched-out arms reached out to both these two dying men. And all of us with our mixed motives and dark sides can find comfort here. For Jesus was always drawn to the incorrigibles and the difficult and those that wold not recognize themselves here.
One of the scandals of today’s church is that we have mostly ignored the radical implications of this tenth station. Many of the folk he kept company with would be most uncomfortable in our nice, middle-class sanctuaries. And many middle or upper class rogues stay away from the church in droves. They say they are not good enough. But if they really ever heard this story--they would find comfort in this Jesus.
Jesus whispered forgiveness to the thief that called out “remember me.” Those outstretched arms still reach out to the dispossessed—which includes all of us. This is a mighty kingdom where Christ longs to be friends even with us. Especially with us.
The old hymn goes:
“In Christ there is no east or west,
In Him no north or south,
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide world.”
(The contemporary renderings of the Stations are done by artist Cecile L.K. Martin of Seneca South Carolina. If you are interested in her work you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)