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Message Supplement for 20 November 2016–“Mocker & Shocker”

Today’s message arises from the lectionary selection in Luke 23:33-43, which portrays an odd mixture of emotions during three persons’ crucifixion. The scene is Calvary, the place of execution for Jesus and two anonymous men.
Non-Roman citizens such as Jesus had fewer legal protections, a second-class status that lowered the threshold for his supposed crimes. Roman citizen or not, anyone instigating a revolutionary insurrection, threatening Roman rule, or insulting the office of the Roman emperor might easily find himself crucified. Add to all this the complication of the Jewish authorities perceiving Jesus as a threat. The result was that Jesus was likely targeted in a political assassination.
The distressing fact of Jesus’ death must be confronted but not dwelt upon. It’s easy to be drawn into a bad situation and to wallow in self-pity or to use bad events as an excuse for God not caring. As people of faith we are supposed to bring light and life into even the most deplorable situations. In reviewing the crucifixion we find lessons of true spiritual life amid unspeakable evil. While on the cross, Jesus forgave his executioners and perhaps many others.
There were two men crucified along with Jesus, one of whom mocked Jesus by sarcastically calling him to miraculously escape. The other guilty man took an entirely different approach. Although equally condemned, the man who came to Jesus’ defense realized that cynicism and skepticism have no value when staring death in the face. Following a much better path, the man who sought redemption focused on a path of making amends while looking toward the future.
The man who had the good attitude first spoke against his companions’ mocking of Jesus. Next, he admitted his own guilt while affirming Jesus’ innocence. Then came the extraordinary last step, wherein the man asked to be remembered. This was a plea for redemption, to which Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43b). What marvelous words Jesus spoke. There’s nothing Jesus might have said that could possibly provide as much comfort and hope as this. Even in his agony, Jesus ministered to someone in need. What a tremendous standard Jesus set for us. We can, like Jesus, provide reassurance to those around us.
Despite his own wounds, Jesus embraced the man next to him with a promise of redemption. Talk about loving your neighbor, well here it is. The lesson from the man who sought redemption is that we must first confront evil, call it out and not condone peoples’ wicked words and deeds. All of this takes spiritual courage and is neither easy nor convenient. Next we must face our own demons and honestly confess our sins while we vindicate the innocent. Last but not least, we must petition God for the redemption that can only come from the Almighty.
Another great gift from today’s story is that Jesus didn’t leave earth nursing a grudge or holding a vendetta. Neither should we. Jesus left a wonderful blessing, that of redemption (something that everyone needs). We are challenged to act properly when things are not going well. Often, our impulse when we are attacked and persecuted is to have an eye-for-an-eye response, one that repays evil for evil. But this is not the ideal path for people who seek the greatest good. Even in the midst of unspeakable horror, our attitude and words matter. We can cause blessings to arise even while we’re being attacked. Thank God that Jesus provided forgiveness rather than condemnation. As a result, we’re all eternally blessed. –Reverend Larry Hoxey.