And after admitting that he had been justly condemned to death for the crimes he had committed, Dismas, the “Good Thief” turned and said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied to him: “ Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus, hanging on the cross, dying, is STILL preaching the Good News! And it’s the words that all of us long to hear: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It’s those words, coupled with the knowledge of his resurrection, that gives us hope, the hope that should direct our entire lives as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Hope takes that faith and directs it toward the future. As Christians, Hope means hope for heaven. The heavenly kingdom where this crucified Christ sits on a throne of triumph and welcomes us to a life of eternal joy.
Unfortunately, in todays’ world, the words “believe” and “hope” have become somewhat trivialized. “I believe” usually means “I think” or “I am of the opinion.” “I believe that Roberto Clemente was the greatest right-fielder ever to play the game.” Or “I believe we’re in for a rough winter this year.”
Is that the same thing as saying “I believe in God, the Father aAlmighty, I believe in his only son, our Lord, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”? Is that the same thing? Is it just an opinion or do we know it to be true?
It’s the same thing with the word “Hope.” “I hope” usually means “I wish” or “I would like it if...” “I hope the Steelers win the Super Bowl.” “I hope we’ve seen the last of this terrorism for a while.”
Christian hope isn’t like that. There’s no “I wish” or “I would like it if I would go to heaven.” For Christians, hope is something that is CERTAIN. We say here at Mass “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” It’s not a guess. It’s not just our opinion. It’s the truth! Hope is an affirmative response on our part to the many promises of God. Sacred Scripture contains over 300 promises of God. And God’s promise will come true! There’s no “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it because God IS truth. God said it; I believe it; and that should settle it. Because a God who is Truth wouldn’t tell us lies and wouldn’t make promises he can’t keep. Our faith in Jesus Christ should always give us that same certain hope that was the good thief’s when Jesus said to him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
After his resurrection, everytime Jesus appears to his disciples, he greets them with the words: “Peace be with you,” or in other words, “I am with you.” Because Jesus is our peace, our hope. It is his peace that we offer to each other when we exchange the sign of peace during Mass. Jesus is here and present to us; present in us as the Body of Christ; present in his word that we have heard and now made a part of ourselves and present in the Eucharist. He continues to offer us his true peace, which is the joy that the world can’t give us. It’s that certain hope of God’s love dwelling in us and and that hope of eternal life in paradise.
Jesus promised: Your grief will turn to joy...but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
But to experience this peace of Christ in its fullness, we have to change. Living our lives in spiritual mediocrity, living out half-heartedly the commandment of Jesus to love God with our whole hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves will not bring us that perfect peace, that perfect joy, that we all hope for. It requires a real effort on our part to put into action what we say we believe when we say our “Amen” at the end of the creed or when we receive communion.
We often say “Amen” at the END of a statement of belief, a statement of hope. But to say “Amen” is really a beginning. If we really mean what we say, if we truly accept what we’ve heard and received from God, then we are compelled to act. We can’t remain silent. We can’t be complacent. Everytime we say “Amen!” we are pledging to continue our efforts to bring about the kingdom of God here and now.
There is a little poem by a woman named Barbara Schmich Searle that explains this very well:
“Amen” makes demands
Like a signature on a dotted line
“Amen”; We support. We approve.
We are of one mind. We promise.
May this come to pass. So be it.
The peace that is Christ’s peace comes to pass through love. And we believe that he will return in glory to judge us on how well we have loved. But we have to be ready to meet him. In fact, he’s already given us the answer to the final test! Most likely, if Jesus was a school teacher in this district, he’d probably be fired for giving away the content of the final exam. More than that, he describes how it will happen.
“But when the son of man comes in his glory...all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them from one another, the way a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” And then he gives us the answer to the test. The theme of the judgement will be love: “Amen, I say to you, insofar as you did it for one of these least of my brothers, you did it for me.”
And Jesus is not only guilty of revealing the content of the exam, he also simplified it for us, substituting the ten demands of the Decalogue with a summary: “Love God and your neighbor.”
Let’s celebrate this great Feast of Christ the King in the sure and certain hope that what Jesus promised us is true, and begin our entry into the season of Advent with the resolution to really change our lives with that full expectation of eternal joy that Christ promises to us.
Can I have an Amen?