Two criminals were crucified with Jesus on that Friday afternoon. Both of them were staring death at the face. Between them was Jesus on the Cross. To some, this Jesus who was crucified between them was a criminal so much like the others who were condemned to die. But to those who believe in him, this Jesus is the Son of David to whom the Lord said: “You shall shepherd my Israel and shall be the commander of Israel.” The Crucified One is the Shepherd who left heaven to search for the lost sheep. Here, he meets two lost sheep at the most decisive part of their lives – the moment of their death. Enthroned upon the wood of the Cross, Jesus is the Shepherd who segregates the sheep from the goats. His presence to them was an invitation to come to Him and find mercy and eternal life.
One of the criminals reviled Jesus: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Even at the moment of death, he could not see beyond himself. He could not see his fate as a just punishment for his crime. Failing to admit his guilt, he could not recognize his need for mercy. What he wanted was an escape from his predicament – the very predicament that he caused himself on account of his sin.
The other criminal looked at Jesus and saw the Lord as so much unlike himself. Jesus was innocent and yet he suffers the same condemnation of a sinner. The search for man began when Adam hid himself from the Lord who called out to him in the garden of Eden. This search finds its culmination in the mystery of the Incarnation in which God the Son assumed our human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. It was for this moment that He became human. He became man in order to suffer the condemnation of a sinner. The criminal looked at Jesus and saw Him as his last hope and so he dared to ask: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That was all he had to do. That was all he had to say and so Jesus declared: “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
|He found the Lord when death stared at him.|
It was the most unlikely of all places that he found Jesus. He found the Lord when death was staring at him. It was at the Cross when he found the Lord…or rather it was at the Cross when he realized that the Lord was there searching for him. The ending of the Year of Faith finds us in the midst of the most unfortunate circumstance. A powerful earthquake and a super typhoon of biblical proportions forced us to stare death at its face. Thousands of lives were lost and properties were destroyed. And yet, like the thief in the gospel, it is here where we realize that the Lord has been there all along searching for us. The calamities made us ask “Why? What is the sense in all these?” And it is in asking questions that we find the Lord. Pope Francis said to the Filipino community: “In these times of suffering, never tire of asking why, because you will attract the tenderness of the Father... We cannot explain why things like this happen; there are so many things we cannot explain. When children start to grow up they don’t understand and ask their mums and dads so many questions. Psychologists call it the “why age”, they don’t wait to hear the answer but continue with other questions. Children need to feel their parent’s love and attention; in that phase of insecurity they need the eyes and hearts of their parents... In these times of suffering, never tire of asking why, because you will attract the tenderness of the Father and his attention, just as children do when they ask “why”...In these times of suffering, prayer is of even more help" (Pope Francis, Blessing of the Mosaic of St. Pedro Calungsod, Nov. 21, 2013)
Storm surges may have washed away houses but not faith which was built on solid rock. And this we see again and again in pictures of people kneeling down in prayer amidst the ruins of their parish churches, in pictures of children salvaging pictures of our Lord from what remains of their houses, of mothers searching for their lost children, of people keeping vigil over their dead. We likewise see this faith in people giving and volunteering to come to the aid of those whose lives were challenged by this tragedy. This faith we see even in our own diocese when we have raised close to four million pesos from our collections for Yolanda victims, when we were able to send 5 trucks loaded with relief goods, when we are able to adopt communities and help them rebuild their lives. Indeed, adversity cannot destroy our faith. It simply makes our faith stronger. As the thief in the Gospel found our Lord in the most unlikely place of death and suffering, so do we find Him in the same circumstance. The tragedy that has befallen us made us examine our conscience and repent of our sins. It made us weep with those who weep. It made us sensitive to human need. It opened our eyes to see that the Lord is always there. It made us run to him for “in him, all things hold together.” In this moment when we are shaken by the enormity of devastated lives, we cry to him: “Jesus, remember us when you enter your kingdom.” And he assures us that he will bring us to paradise, but for now he will stay with us. And we realize that this is true. The Lord already has brought us a glimpse of paradise, yes, even amidst tragedy. After all, paradise is wherever God is present…and where charity and love is found, God is there. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.