Paradise for Thieves
The thief called Him “Master” and knew Him as King. After hours of humiliating torture, he would enter paradise, comforted by the sight and the nearness of his Master as he suffered.
I too can be crucified with the King this day and see with the eyes of my heart the King who does not die nearby, but dwells within.
O my soul, O dying thief, look into your heart where the King of glory lives.
My hours of suffering can end before sundown, if only my legs of strength would be broken as the legs of that thief were wonderfully broken.
The thief pressed upward with his legs, dragging breath after ragged breath into his chest, pressing upward time and time again, breathing in life as he knew it. All the while the nails in his feet and arms burned horribly as his strength dug against them. Painfully did he fail to save his own breath and save his own life with his strength.
Yet Pilate’s soldiers came. They broke his legs, forcing him toward paradise, united moments later with his King–united in death, united in resurrection.
Luke alone records the thief’s conversation with our Master in his 24th chapter. In his 9th chapter, Luke alone records this promise of the thief’s Master: “Whoever would desire to save his breath will lose it, yet whoever would lose his breath for My sake, this one will save it,” or in most translations, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life…”
Here the Greek for “life” is psyche, literally meaning “breath,” rather than the simplest word for “life,” zoe.
Perhaps not by accident did Jesus use the word “breath” in this promise. Did a certain thief lurk in the crowd that day to hear so strange a promise?
Each time I press upward to draw “breath” back into my proud chest and save what I call “life,” I quickly feel the pain of failure like nails in the strong limbs of that thief.
O my soul, how weak is your strength, how ragged is the life you draw into your lungs, and how deeply does the failure of your effort burn, like nails pulling against the flesh and bones of a thief.
Pilate’s soldiers will not come. They will not break my strength, but the Spirit of the most High may come and break this ignorant and painful self-effort.
Today I can be in paradise, united to the death and resurrection of the King.
O my soul, unlike the thief, you may yet have years to learn a deeper humility for His glory, but you know not whether you too will die a few short hours from now like that thief. Therefore, cry out every moment! Cry out for the Agent of the Governor to break your strong limbs. Lose your life, your “breath,” so that you may save it and become dead this very hour, and resurrected, fully united to the Master in His paradise.
This word “paradise” did not come from Greek, but rather a Persian term for the hunting grounds surrounding Persian palaces, places of luxury and beauty and sport. How many are the luxuries and beauties our King offers around His palace.
O my soul, what is the sport of your King which can deeply satisfy, unlike every so-called luxury or beauty or sport of this dead and disappearing world around you?
O my soul, what will you seek today to kill in the paradise right outside of His palace? And what could possibly keep you from asking that your legs be broken so you may hunt with your King, putting to death the beastly loves of this world?
Such beastly loves will soon die regardless. Will they pass away now with the King’s assistance, or will they pass away later and without your having tasted today of the luxury and beauty of the paradise to come, by hunting them on this day with your King because you merely cried out for your own strong legs to be broken?
The legs of the thief would have given out after several long days of agonizing self-effort, but the Pharisees asked for help from their governor, Pilate. They asked him for mercy, lest the offenders would hang on the holy day of resting.
So it is with you, O my soul. Your strength will certainly fail after much suffering if you do not cry out to the true Governor. You need not hang in self-effort when you should be engaged in holy resting.
Cry out, so that your painful self-effort would be broken, so you too may lose your life, your “breath,” and breathe in true Life today for the ever-present hunt in the ever-present Paradise of your King.
Do not wait until the bodily death for paradise! Today, O my soul, you can rest in the Paradise of your King, if only your efforts be blessedly broken.