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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Seven Last Words of Christ Part 2

This is the second part of a series on the Seven Last Words of Christ as I read Father Richard John Neuhaus’ Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditation on the Last Words of Jesus From the Cross.

“Truly, I say to you, today you will
be with me in paradise.”

In Matthew 19: 30 Our Lord tells us, “And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first.” Christ continues in the telling of householder who hired laborers for his vineyard. Some began work in the morning, others at the third hour, and still more at the eleventh hour. At the end of the day the last to begin work were paid first and all received the same wage. The first to begin work grumbled that the last received the same wage. The master of the house said to them, “Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee. Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good?”

The Biblical account of Jesus crucifixion tells us that he was crucified between two robbers. One of the condemned railed against him saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” The other rebuked the first, “Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil.” Turing to our Savior, and his, he said, “Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.” Here we have the second of the seven last words, “Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23)

Here we see the last of humanity, a thief, be the first to receive the salvation made available by the Christ crucified. Just has he had done throughout his public ministry; Christ continued to preach even as he faced death on the Cross. He shows us what is meant by the “first shall be last: and the last shall be first.” We must be diligent to not set ourselves first in self righteous assurance of our salvation while condemning others, for the thief, condemned by all, was the first to taste salvation.

In the Sermon on the Mount Christ warns us, “judge not, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7: 1). We commonly recognize this as a clear instruction to refrain from passing judgment on others. What of ourselves? Should we not also refrain from judging the state of our own salvation? To judge our own salvation secure is to become comfortable or worse, boastful. St. Paul instructs us, “with fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Phillipian 2: 12).

Rather that judge our own salvation to be secure we should live in the hope of salvation. Father Neuhaus quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as saying, “one has to believe of what one hopes that it can be attained, this is what hope adds to mere desire. Man can, namely, also have desire for things that he does not believe he can attain, but hope cannot exist in these circumstances.”

Our hope for salvation is grounded in our belief, that is, our faith that it may be attained. Furthermore, our faith leads us to hope that all will be saved. In his letter to Timothy, Paul tells us, “I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: For kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2: 1 - 4).

From the Cross our Lord shows us that our belief is not unfounded and therefore our hope justified. He shows us that through his Grace and awesome power, in accordance with His will, even the last of human kind can be saved from the very jaws of death. In fear and trembling we must hope for our salvation and the salvation of all.

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