This coming Sunday is the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In yesterday’s post we considered those executed alongside him – the two thieves. Today we conclude our study and consider “Amen, I say to you.” This is the sixth time Luke has used this phrase and the only one addressed to one person. It is also the last of the emphatic “today” pronouncements. Like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame in Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (14:21), the thief would feast with Jesus that day in paradise. Like Lazarus who died at the rich man’s fate (16:19-31), the thief would experience the blessing of God’s mercy.
St Paul wrote:
For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life (1 Cor 15:16-22)
In Luke’s own way, the promise to the penitent thief reflects this same idea. Others taunted Jesus, mocking him with challenges to save himself, so with fitting irony his last words to another human being are an assurance of salvation. Jesus’ ministry has been focused on the widow, the tax collector, the outcast, the foreigner, the poor and destitute, and any number of monikers for those people on the margins of life. Jesus began the ministry proclaiming “good news to the poor” and “the release of captives” (4:18) – and he ended the ministry by extending an assurance of blessing to one of the wretched.
“…today you will be with me in Paradise” The promise is that the criminal would be “with Jesus” in paradise. Jesus’ close association with sinners and tax collectors that was part of his life, is also part of his death and his life beyond death. The word “paradise” (originally from Persia) meant “garden,” “park” or “forest”. The Greek paradeisos was used in the LXX for the “garden” in Eden, the idyllic place in the beginning where the humans walked and talked with God. Isaiah presents the “garden/paradise” of Eden as part of the future salvation (53:3).
Later, some groups within Judaism considered paradise to be the place where the righteous went after death. Paul considered paradise to be in the “third heaven” (2Cor 12:4). Revelation has the tree of life in the “paradise of God” (2:7). In later chapters the tree of life seems to be located in the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven (22:2,14,19).
Perhaps as with basileia, we should think of paradeisos as something other than just a place – perhaps as a restored relationship with God.
Image credit: Christ the King, Krakow Poland, Pixabay, CC-BY-NC