Message from Fr Gary April 2016
An Oxymoron in Holy Week
I am fascinated by oxymorons. These hypocritical expressions really don't mean anything at all, do they? For example, what, when you REALLY think about it, is a "Jumbo Scrimp?" What does it mean to have an "original copy," or "freezer burn?" Have you ever gotten an "exact estimate" or "plastic glasses?" We all know what these terms refer to, but upon closer examination they really do seem quite odd and silly.
During Holy Week, specifically on Great and Holy Friday (which is an oxymoron in and of itself- seriously, we refer to the day that Christ is Crucified as "Great" and "Good."), we will read about the "Good Thief." How can a thief be good? If he were being punished by crucifixion, then he must have committed a horrific crime. Crucifixion was used for slaves, rebels, pirates and especially-despised enemies and criminals. Therefore crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Our Lord was severely beaten and crucified for our sake, namely, forgiveness of our sins. This "Thief," the good one, was being punished for an appalling crime, he wasn't a good person. Through Christ's compassion he finds salvation.
This "Good Thief' is actually "The Ultimate Thief." He stole his way into the Kingdom of Heaven! We are told in the earlier chapters of the Gospels by our Lord that we can find salvation even at the 11th hour! The Ultimate Thief was able to get his foot into the Kingdom at the last minute of that 11th Hour! There are three lessons can we learn from this Thief's transformation and repentance. First, Christ is approachable, second, Christ wants us to be with Him, and lastly, Christ keeps His promises.
The first lesson we can take from this Thief is, "There is never a bad time to approach Christ." Our Lord was hanging on a cross, in a lot of pain, and feeling the anguish of the persecution, and yet this brave man endearingly asks the Lord for permission to be with Him in the Kingdom. Apparently, there are times when we go through life thinking that we can handle our difficulties on our own. Sure enough, the Thief was on the verge of death and knew that his end was near. In his desperation he knew to turn to Christ. It is imperative that we have the same desire to turn to our Lord in moments of pain.
Another lesson we learn from the "Ultimate Thief," is it doesn't matter what your past was like, it depends on your attitude at the present moment and your desire to change your ways. As mentioned previously, the Thief was on the verge of his death, and he knew that his past was checkered with wrong-doings, but his desire to be with Christ led him towards a contrite heart.
Let's not forget that a few hours earlier, this "Ultimate Thief' was ridiculing Christ with the other Robber on the cross. It is only after our Lord says, "Father forgive them," that the Thief has his change of heart. Notice that Christ doesn't say, "Please Father, forgive them," but emphatically says, "Father, forgive them." The Ultimate Thief realizes the authority possessed by Christ and comes to identify Him as Lord and Savior. We should never be ashamed of what transpired in our past, Christ cares about our desire to change, repent and live a new life in Him!
The final lesson we can learn from this Ultimate Thief is Christ keeps His promises. In our Church's great wisdom, through Her Tradition and prayers, this Ultimate Thief is remembered at every Divine Liturgy! Prior to approaching for Holy Communion, faithful Orthodox Christians pray, "I will not kiss you as did Judas, but hike the thief will I confess to you: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." The fact that our Church uses the Thief's dying words to also express our desire to be in communion with Christ and to be with Him in the Kingdom additionally proves that the Thief was made a citizen of the Kingdom.
As we gather our thoughts and reflect upon the events that emerge because of Holy Week it further strengthens us to know that our Lord can take an oxymoron and turn him into a Citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Far is it for us to decide who gets in and who stays out, that judgment is reserved for our Lord! What we should be concerned with is our, genuine, desire to be in the Kingdom with our Lord. When a conversation includes an oxymoron, or when any of life's circumstances offer you a chance to use an oxymoron, allow your mind to recall the Thief on the Cross, the GOOD Thief on the Cross and how he edged his way into an eternity with God. Maybe the next time you are stuck in "Rush Hour," told to "Act Naturally, or have a craving for "Junk Food" your mind might summon the actions of the GOOD THIEF.
In Christ’s Service,