I cannot believe how long it has been since I have posted on my blog. As well, how the thought of “two thieves” continues to incubate in my heart. Is it a book, an insight to be shared or a message that I should continue to ponder privately? I alluded to it once on a post but have never wrestled through it sufficient for it to leave my spirit.
Processing thought is how I spend a large majority of my time. Probably secondary to that is reading the Scriptures and the writings of others regarding that mysterious text.
Then of course the rest of my time is giving to living according to where my heart seems to be that day, as I move out into the workplace and among my family. My family, such a gift and yet robbed it seems of so much life experience, having watched me wrestle between two thieves most of my life.
By now you must have had some idea of where the thought comes from?
“Two other men were also led out with Jesus to be killed. Both of them had broken the law. The soldiers brought them to the place called the Skull. There they nailed Jesus to the cross. He hung between the two criminals. One was on his right and one was on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” The soldiers divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood there watching. The rulers even made fun of Jesus. They said, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him. They offered him wine vinegar. They said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
A written sign had been placed above him. It read,
this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us!”
But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you have any respect for God?” he said. “Remember, you are under the same sentence of death. 41 We are being punished fairly. We are getting just what our actions call for. But this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Luke 23:32-42 (NIRV):
I must however give credit where credit is due, for my first “aha!” occurred in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning as my good friend Allan Wright of Reynolda Presbyterian unpacked his own revelation about the conversation that occurred between three men, two guilty, while one suffered with a cause that drew both blasphemy from one and repentance from the other.
Then there is Richard Rohr, to some a heretic and to others a man of tremendous insight into the gospel, with little middle ground allowed! “The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Duns Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift. The idea of gift is much more transformative than necessity, payment, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. It is we who are violent.”
It would seem that the lowly birth and tragic though prophetic, death of Jesus was God saying “flag on the field” to religion and the religious; His death, an answer to the punishment sin’s guilt demanded of the sinner, rather than a means of assuaging God’s wrath! My concern is that even with the great scriptural contrast between who Jesus demonstrated God to be, alongside the wrathful One described in the Old Testament, we have preferred some combination of the two and devised doctrines to support that perception!
The mystery of scripture is not in the literal text but in its ability to capture the hearts of both man and God in a way such that an ongoing revelation is possible and probable to the one whose heart is open.
“Jesus was killed on the collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world that was both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—all the primary opposites.” – Rohr 7/26/17
Today we set inside a nation so divided that our global image of hope and the American Dream becomes more tarnished almost daily.
At a recent conference represented by 10 nations, I was privileged to engage in a an elevator conversation with a first generation immigrant Venture Capitalist. He was very clear about his role in aiding those pouring into our country with ideas and dreams such that they are able to get “legs under their dream” as soon as possible, thus prepared for what he saw coming to this country. This was a brief conversation as we descended 19 floors, but as he was leaving, in a very cold but caring way, as he sensed my desire to see our country transformed, he left me with these words: “250 years is not bad for a country, you guys have had a good run!” I was dumbfounded by his calculated realism!
What brought us here? Perhaps our willingness to accommodate division as a Church, Catholic-Protestant, Charismatic-Orthodox traditional; or maybe it was by design; left brained-right brained? Could that have been the necessity of the Trinity Concept, three in one or three that are contained in a fourth, just now being dealt with in our both and conversations of the last 10-120 years?
Again I found it interesting in Rohr’s timing as he used the same words in a recent morning meditation: “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do.” For context I will include his entire paragraph:
“If we must have perfection to be happy with ourselves, we have only two choices. We can either blind ourselves to our own evil (and deny the weeds) or we can give up in discouragement (and deny the wheat). But if we put aside perfection and face the tension of having both, then we can hear the good news with open hearts. It takes uncommon humility to carry the dark side of things. It takes a kind of courage to carry the good side, too. Archetypically, “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do. (See Luke 23:32–34; note Jesus forgives both thieves.)”
Our political divide, even though today it seems potentially insurmountable, is one of the healthy traits of democracy, as long as civility reigns and ego’s are contained; as well, the ability to separate personal agenda from prophetic calling, and religion from divine relationship.
The challenge of living and dying between two thieves is quite tedious and in a pluralistic society spiritual cannibalism also comes into play.
So much to unpack!