Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:42-43)
Chapter two of Witness at the Cross examines the words and witness of the thieves crucified next to Jesus. I find it challenging that, to my knowledge, the first person granted full entry into the Kingdom of Heaven is a convicted “robber.” Moreover, though he is sometimes called the “penitent thief,” he is not very repentant other than to say that he and the other thief are rightly convicted. James and John have previously asked Jesus for entry and a position of power in this kingdom. Jesus rebukes their request and reminds them that the kingdom is not about power and status but about being other-focused in service to others. For the thief to be “remembered” is to experience the Kingdom of God. Marked by right relationship to God, neighbor, and all creation, the paradise of Eden is made present. Capital punishment and execution, after all, is an attempt to blot a person out of memory and a result of broken relationships. I wonder if a community that holds one another in remembrance foments a kingdom that is not so much a physical, otherworldly place as it is a right relationship with others. Dr. Levine offers that perhaps in the invitation to visit those in prison given in Matthew, to remember the ones society wants to forget, we are bringing the kingdom near and making paradise present.