One of the criminals hanging there abused him. Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well. But the other spoke up and rebuked him. Have you no fear of God at all? he said. You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it; we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. He answered him, In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23: 39-43)
We can't really know what the thief was thinking who asked to be remembered by Jesus. Did he think Jesus was a defeated earthly king still worthy of belief? That doesn't sound very plausible. What inexplicable insight did he have as to who Jesus is?
First there are the words, Remember me. Perhaps he was all alone on the cross, not even a loved one to accompany him. So many people feel forgotten. It is the greatest fear of the refugee - that no help will come. Remember me, the poor fellow asks. And here we are, more than two thousand years later thinking about him - remembering him.
And then, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Your regal glory is a better translation than just kingdom, so to avoid thinking simply in geographical terms. But the kingdom is within you, Jesus teaches. (Luke 17:20-21) God's supremacy in each of us.
Today you are with me in paradise. Jesus is inviting the thief to follow him into something beyond this. Follow me into victory! And victory begins today. We want to call it heaven. But once we put a label on it we've made it too small, reduced it to its bare minimum for easy handling. Then we have stolen away its wonder and power.
Follow me into victory, Jesus says, and that victory is today! What might that mean for me, for you? That's not a rhetorical question. The folks in AA would know how to speak about this: just for today.