“Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’”
The second leaf of our mystical vine and the second chord of our spiritual lyre is the second pronouncement of the Lord on the cross, which He spoke to the thief who professed His faith in Him. “Amen,” He said, “I say to thee: today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” How great and splendid is the vigor of this leaf! With what heavenly sweetness does this string resound! How suddenly is an enemy transformed into a supporter, a stranger changed into a friend, and a thief into a herald of the truth! How great was the faithfulness of this repentant thief. For he acknowledges all his own wickedness without dissimulation or excuse. And, having arrived at the very doors of death, he has resigned all hopes for this present life. Yet this does not prevent him from placing his hopes in the future and eternal life. What person is there who should despair, if this thief dares to hope?
The divine Spouse hears him, not as a thief but as a new believer, and comforts and encourages him accordingly: “Amen, I say to thee: today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” He says “thou shalt be with Me.” Not just that he will be “in paradise,” or that he will be “in paradise with the angels,” but in paradise in the company of the One whom he recognizes as his Savior. Neither does Christ defer what He offers, but promises that it shall be “today.” Our Lord is quick to hear, quick to promise, and quick to give! Who should despair, when there is such a ready listener, who is so unhesitating in His promises, and so quick to fulfill what He has pledged? We hope in You, O Jesus. We approach You, seated on Your glorious throne of majesty, hoping fervently to hear from You those very same words which that good thief heard, while You hung upon the throne of the cross.
Jesus, bestower of mercy; Jesus, solace of the sorrowful; Jesus, glory of penitence; Jesus, hope of the repentant. Though You were perfectly innocent, You made Yourself a companion of the guilty, And became the associate of two thieves. Of these, one of them blasphemed and insulted You. “If You are really the Son of God,” he said, “Save Yourself, and save us! Yes, as You were merciful to others, be merciful to Yourself, And as You rescued others, rescue us now!” But the other of them rebuked this one. Admitting his own guilt, he proclaimed Your innocence. And then he turned to You in humble supplication: “Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your Kingdom.” Truly, this Kingdom shall be a paradise of delight, When You reveal Yourself as King, O Jesus! For You love repentance, and draw hearts to Yourself through grace. You promised this good thief not only that You would remember him, But that He would share with You in Your glory, And so You said: “Amen, I say to thee: Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”
This article is taken from a chapter in The Seven Last Words of Christ by St. Bonaventure and Arnold of Bonneval, which is available from TAN Books.