14 March 2016
Lesson from the cross
The reading for this Sunday is taken from Luke's passion account. Being Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry, Luke 19:28-40, is also listed as an alternative reading. I have chosen however, to focus on a small section of the main lectionary reading ... the account commonly known as The thief on the cross. In particular, I would like to focus on these words found in verse 42 ...
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
It is only in recent times, that I've really appreciated the incredible wisdom, knowledge and truth tied up in that short sentence. The thief captures everything in just nine words! First of all he knows who Jesus is and it is clearly implied that he recognizes Jesus as God. By his humble request, he displays amazing faith and understanding arguably far beyond that of even Jesus' closest followers!
It seems that this is a controversial text for a number of reasons, but especially in the area of "what do we have to do to be saved?" In effect the answer is Jesus plus nothing! Perhaps rather incredibly, there is no actual confession or request for forgiveness in this story! (as previously discussed when analysing the Lost Son account). The thief's simple, power-packed acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord clearly brings him into God's favour.
What does this mean for us right now both personally and for our Lutheran schools? Well sometimes I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be. Have we made too much of the business of having to ask for forgiveness (on an on-going basis)? Our Gospel reading tends to suggest so. I feel that at times in our churches we have perhaps over-emphasized sin, guilt, confession and forgiveness. Why do we have to continually, week after week grovel to God for forgiveness? When we say yes to Jesus, through God's grace we are set free and forgiven for all time. Forgiven is past tense! Jesus announced from the cross that "It is finished". Hebrews in particular repeatedly reinforces this. The expression "once for all" is used nine times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus wiping out all the sins of all of us - past, present and future for all time. (For example see Hebrews 7:26-28)
If Jesus was to come back to 21st Century society right now for another 3-year stint, would it not be an almost identical re-run of 2000 years ago? Perhaps what the world needs now is another reformation! Are we just as off-track now as the people were in Jesus time and in the time of Luther? Have we really understood the significance of the new covenant? Have we retained practices and rituals of the old which really do not reflect our understanding of being set free for all time? Should we not regularly celebrate the fact that we are forgiven and free for all time, instead of going through the process again and again of asking God to forgive us? Let's not over-complicate something that really is very simple.
Hey ... maybe I've got this wrong ... but right now I'm happy to celebrate the fact that I've been set free for all time and get on with the business of helping to bring that good news to others.