Spirituality Joseph D'Emanuele  

The Good Thief

The Russian Orthodox icon of The Good Thief in Paradise, circa 16th century in Rostov, Kremlin (Photo by Shakko)

The story of the good thief, or better, the penitent wrongdoer (see Robbers or wrongdoers?), as recounted in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 23, 32-43), is a powerful example of the transformative power of grace and the possibility of redemption even in the direst of circumstances. The story recounts that two thieves are crucified alongside Jesus, one on his right and one on his left. Both of the thieves initially mocked Jesus (see Mt 27, 39-44), but then one of them has a change of heart and defends Jesus.

The thief on the right rebukes the other thief, 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” (Lk 23, 40-41). This statement is a turning point in the story, as the thief on the right recognizes Jesus’ innocence and authority, and acknowledges his own guilt and impending death.

The thief then turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” (Lk 23, 42). This request is a powerful expression of the thief’s faith in Jesus, and his recognition of Jesus’ power and authority, even in the face of great suffering and injustice.

Jesus’ response to the thief is one of compassion and grace. He assures the thief that he will be with him in paradise, despite his past mistakes and sins. This moment highlights the transformative power of grace and the possibility of redemption, even in the face of great suffering. 

This story also highlights the importance of humility and repentance in the Christian faith. The thief on the right acknowledges his own wrongdoing and places his trust in Jesus’ authority and forgiveness. This act of humility and repentance is a necessary step on the path towards spiritual growth and transformation.

What does it mean to be humble?  Does it mean to be without opinion, or easily manipulated by others?  In spiritual terms, humility can be defined as a state of mind and heart in which an individual recognizes their own limitations, weaknesses, and imperfections, and acknowledges their dependence on a higher power, God. A humble person is one who recognizes that they are not perfect and that they need the help and guidance of a God to grow and develop spiritually. This recognition can lead to a sense of surrender and submission to the One, and a willingness to be led and guided by Him.  The opposite of humility is pride, which is a spiritual obstacle that can prevent individuals from growing and developing spiritually. Pride can manifest as a sense of self-importance or superiority, a refusal to acknowledge one’s own limitations or mistakes, and a resistance to seeking help or guidance from others. To be humble means to allow oneself to be open to new experiences and to learn from others, and it can lead to a deeper sense of connection with a God and with others.

Without humility, there is no repentance; a deep sense of regret or remorse for one’s sins or wrongdoing. Repentance is a necessary step towards reconciliation with God. Repentance involves acknowledging one’s sins, taking responsibility for them, and expressing a sincere desire to turn away from them and live a life that is in alignment with God’s will. It is accompanied by a willingness to make amends and to seek forgiveness from those who have been harmed.  The Christian concept of repentance is closely linked to the idea of salvation. Christians believe that through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, one can be forgiven of their sins and restored to a right relationship with God. This idea is based on the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for human beings to be reconciled with God and to receive the gift of eternal life.  In practical terms, repentance involves a process of self-examination and reflection, in which an individual recognizes their own sins and shortcomings and seeks to make changes in their life. This may involve seeking the guidance of a spiritual mentor or counsellor, engaging in acts of service or charity, or participating in spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or fasting. Repentance is a necessary step on the path towards spiritual growth and transformation in the Christian faith. It allows individuals to turn away from their past mistakes and to embrace a new way of life that is grounded in love, compassion, and service to others.

The story of the good thief serves as a powerful reminder that no matter how far we may have strayed from the path of righteousness, there is always hope for redemption and forgiveness. Through our faith in Jesus and our willingness to acknowledge our mistakes and seek forgiveness, we can be transformed and restored to a right relationship with God.

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