Luke 23:43: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
How do you know what’s true?
It can be hard to know what’s true when we’re in pain. Remember the last time you were really hurt? Maybe you fell and skinned your knee, or maybe you fell farther and harder and broke your arm, or maybe your heart hurt because a friend was mean to you.
When we’re hurt or sad, those feelings can be really big – they can take up all the space in our mind – and it can be hard to remember that more is true than just what we feel at that moment. It can be easy to focus on just those feelings, and hard to remember the good things that surround us, the people who care for us, the big and small ways we are loved every day. All of that can be overshadowed when we’re in pain, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that two others were also with Jesus, hung on crosses on either side of him. And one of them asked of Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied with words that seem unbelievable: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Maybe Jesus knew those words would sound unbelievable. Maybe that’s why he added “truly I tell you” to the beginning of his promise. He had to say something to convince the man at his side that what was around them at that moment – their own pain and suffering, the sadness of those around them, the cruelty of their situation – was not all that was real. It was surely intense and overwhelming, maybe even all-consuming. It would be understandable if Jesus and the men next to him felt like their pain was the only certainty, the only thing that was real in that moment. It would’ve been understandable if they had trouble seeing anything past the horror of the situation they were in.
But the man who asked Jesus to remember him must’ve had some hope to begin with when he spoke that request. He must’ve known something about Jesus, must’ve heard stories of how Jesus made seemingly impossible things real – fed the hungry multitudes, healed those who had been sick for ages.
Maybe the man thought, ‘if Jesus can turn those hopeless situations around, maybe he can do something for me, here and now.’ And Jesus helped the man to trust that he had good reason to hope when he told him this “truth” – that they would be together in something better, something beyond where they currently were.
When the man makes this request of Jesus, and when Jesus responds, the two are together in a terrible moment. Have you ever shared a moment of sadness or fear or pain with someone? Seeing another person struggle can deepen our own struggle – maybe that’s why we sometimes look away when those around us are hurting.
But seeing another person struggle can also help us: it can reassure us that we are not alone in our pain. It can connect us to each other in important ways. Instead of increasing our hurt, it can lessen it. An old saying suggests that sharing our sorrow halves it, and sharing our joy doubles it. The promise here is that though, Jesus and this other man share their struggle in this scene, they will also be together in paradise – that is, in a place of joy and delight. The promise is this: some sort of transformation is coming.
We don’t know much about what Jesus thought would happen after death. We know differing branches of Judaism of his time had different ideas about what life after death might be. We do know that he prayed – and taught his disciples to pray – that God’s will, and God’s power, and God’s love, would be made real “on earth, as it is in heaven.” And maybe, by offering that promise of peace and paradise to the man at his side, Jesus was helping to make it real right where he was.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS
• Who makes you feel better when you’re sad? How do they do that?
• How do you think the man felt when he heard Jesus’ promise that they would be together in paradise?
• When pain feels like all that’s “true,” how do you remember God’s promises?• What are some truths you speak to other people when they’re struggling?
• How do you imagine paradise?
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