The Prayer of the Good Thief
It is a small scene in Luke’s Gospel— all of four verses—but it speaks volumes.
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.”
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
This brief encounter in which Jesus is defended by the repentant thief—or the “Good Thief” as I called him growing up—is, for me, the most profound in all the gospels.
Remember is the crucial word here.
Throughout the Gospels we are presented with people who ask for many things:
Jesus restore my sight…
Jesus, cure my leprosy…
Jesus, who is your favorite…
Jesus, feed the multitude…
Jesus, what does it take to enter the kingdom of God…
Jesus, save yourself…
But the good thief asks for nothing.
He asks Jesus to prove nothing and explain nothing. Instead it is the good thief’s humility that strikes me. He is guilty. He has no illusions and no sense of his deserving anything at all from our Lord, so he asks Jesus simply to remember him.
Not ‘Jesus, save me.’
Or ‘Jesus, heal me.’
Or even ‘Jesus, forgive me.’
Somehow being remembered by Him is enough.
How many times have I cast about looking for the right way to pray? In Luke, a convicted criminal stuns me with a prayer so simple and unadorned.
And how does Jesus respond to this sinner’s simple act of love?
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”