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The Confession of the Good Thief
The good thief made a complete confession of sin. He says to his companion who insults Jesus, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). Here the good thief shows himself an excellent theologian. Only God, in fact, if he suffers, suffers absolutely as innocent; every other being who suffers should say, “I suffer justly,” because even if he is not responsible for the action imputed to him, he is never altogether without fault. Only the pain of innocent children is similar to God’s, and because of this, it is so mysterious and so sacred.
How many atrocious crimes in recent times remain anonymous; how many unresolved cases exist! The good thief launches an appeal to those responsible: “Do like me; come out into the open, confess your fault. You also will experience the joy I had when I heard Jesus’ word, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise!’” (Luke 23:43). How many confessed offenders can confirm that it was also like this for them—that they passed from hell to heaven the day they had the courage to repent and confess their fault? I have known some myself. The paradise promised is peace of conscience, the possibility of looking at oneself in the mirror or of looking at one’s children without having to have contempt for oneself.
“It Is Accomplished”
After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit” (John 19:30, Jerusalem Bible).
“It is accomplished!” This word is enough to throw light on the whole of the mystery of Calvary. What was it that was accomplished? First of all, it was the earthly life of Jesus, the work that the Father had given him to do (cf. John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4). “He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was” (John 13:1, JB). The Greek says, “He loved them to the telos,” that is, to the end, and that same word, in its verbal form, is echoed in the cry of Jesus: “tetelestai,” it is accomplished. He has endured, to the very end, the supreme test of his love.
The Scriptures, too, were accomplished—the Scriptures of the suffering servant, the paschal lamb, the innocent pierced, Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple and the river of living water flowing from its side (cf. 47:1-12). But it was not only some particular points of the Scriptures that were accomplished; the entire Old Testament, en bloc, had been accomplished, not analytically, but in synthesis, substantively. Dying, the Lamb opened the book with seven seals (cf. Revelation 5:1–8:1) and revealed the full meaning of God’s plan.
This is the page that, when you turn it, explains all, like that great illuminated page in the Missal at the beginning of the Canon. See it there, printed in flaming red, the great page that separates the two Testaments. All doors open at once, all points of opposition disappear, all contradictions are resolved. (Paul Claudel, Le poète et la Bible, 729)
The page that separates the two Testaments is also the page that joins them together; each throws light on the other. Nothing is done away with; all is accomplished, fulfilled.
In bringing things to their fulfillment, Christ overcomes their limitations; he makes them take a qualitative leap. It is like what happens in the consecration of the Eucharist: from that moment on, the bread is no longer merely bread; it has become something else. So, too, the old covenant, from the moment of the death of Christ, has become the new and eternal covenant; the letter has become Spirit.
Into the Old comes the New,
into law comes grace,
into the figure, the reality,
into the lamb, the Son,
and into man, God. (Melito of Sardis, On Easter, 7)
Excerpted from The Fire of Christ’s Love: Meditations on the Cross by Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (The Word Among Us Press, 2013). Available at your local bookstore or Amazon.com