As Good As Dead

They look at a man

As good as dead:

Hanging from the gallows,

Condemned unpardonably,

Hated by all,

Covered in shame,

Guilty in the courts,

Life slipping from his lungs.

Another criminal crushed by justice.

Another Friday for the executioner.

Another rebel put to rest.

The crowd says, “Save yourself!”

Knowing it won’t happen.

The other man

(As good as dead too),

Sees the same, but more…

Words ring through his head:

“Some standing here

Will not taste death

Before they see

The kingdom of God.”

Death encroaches,

He can taste it, 

But he believes the sign written:

“King of the Jews”

To also mean King of the Universe.

He says, “I’m guilty, 

But you’re not a thief, Lord. 

Your throne is claimed rightfully.

Remember me when it turns out

The way you say it will.

You’ll save the cosmos, 

Not just Yourself,”

Knowing it will happen.

This is no Hail Mary,

Buzzer shot, get out of jail conversion,

An attempt to cheat death.

It’s contrition, true repentance, and

Faith that moves mountains.

–N.R. 6/22/20

Created by Arthit Longwilai

I’ve always heard that the story of the thief on the cross next to Jesus (found in Luke 23:32-43) is about the fact that it’s “never too late” to put faith in Christ and be forgiven. This is true, however, the more I read this story, the more it becomes apparent that something much larger is happening in the heart of the thief. In Luke’s gospel, the author spends most of the story highlighting the idea of the kingdom of God, describing it with stories and sharing what Jesus teaches about it. It is supposed to be a real, tangible kingdom, but also one that is spiritual and not yet complete on this earth. The Jews expected the kingdom of God to be an overthrow of the Roman Empire, who was controlling them at the time. 

Amidst the paradox, confusion, and the king of this kingdom’s own imminent death, the thief chooses to believe that the kingdom will still come. He knows Jesus will be there to see it too, saying, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Not only does he trust that what Jesus says will come true, but that He can defy death in order to see it happen. This was no “If you could do me a favor, please let me into heaven, Jesus.” This was a startling assertion of faith that contradicted everything the dying man should have believed based on his immediate circumstance. 

In a broader discussion about how creation is longing to be renewed, Romans 8:24 says, “hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” And Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” In other words, hope longs to see what faith knows will happen in the future. Do we have faith for today like that? Amidst war and injustice and racism and everyday violence and corruption (and so on)–can we look death in the face like the doomed thief and have faith in a different end to the story in the kingdom of God? Faith in Christ anchors us; it’s not just vague assent to whimsical claims, but a trust that supersedes our reality, telling us that we will see God and His kingdom in its fullness one day.

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