Sadly, there have always been those who scoff at others or make fun of them, generally because they themselves feel threatened in some way. Those on the receiving end of such bullying behaviour often feel powerless and demeaned. There may be some comfort for such people in today’s gospel. It presents a serious case of bullying and two dignified responses that undermine the destructive power of the bullies.
The first dignified response is that of Jesus who refuses to retaliate when the Roman soldiers mock him or when another convicted criminal [‘one of the criminals hanging there’] derides him. Another dignified response comes from ‘the other’ criminal. This man has the insight to recognise that Jesus is innocent. He also has the courage to challenge the injustice of what is going on around him. Having offered his challenge, he then turns to Jesus and addresses him by name: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ His request reveals his faith in Jesus as the human face of God. It also reveals his knowledge of Jesus’ mission, first announced in Galilee: ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’
Jesus points to God and God’s reign or empire. Jesus’ convict companion points to Jesus’ reign or empire. The reign of God and the reign of Jesus are one and the same. In turning to Jesus and putting his request, this criminal becomes a disciple and receives the assurance of a share in Jesus’ life with God: ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’ ‘Jesus, remember me’ is a fitting prayer in the face of all life’s struggles. Next time we sing these words or pray them in our hearts, we might spare a thought for their author, a convicted Jewish criminal who had the courage to rise above his own suffering and challenge the unjust oppression of an innocent neighbour. Like Jesus, he was and continues to be an instrument of God’s reign.