Today’s gospel tells us that on the first Good Friday there were three crosses on Calvary. They were the cross of sin, the cross of sorrow and the cross of salvation. The one that we choose for ourselves will affect where we spend eternity.
The cross of sin belonged to the thief who was unrepentant. We don’t know what his crime was (traditionally we say he was a thief) but we do know that he was there to be executed. His life of crime had hardened him and he clearly could feel no remorse for his sin. He was so far from God that his cynicism lasted to the very end. He even mocked Jesus, suggesting that if he really were the Christ he would be able to get down from the cross and save them too. His choices in life were such that he didn’t know how far he had fallen.
His sin had blinded him to reality.
The cross of sorrow was the one on which the other thief hung. Unlike his fellow criminal he recognised his own guilt and felt contrition. He knew that he deserved what he was getting while Jesus had done nothing wrong but was suffering the same fate. His act of repentance took the form of standing up for Jesus and rebuking the other thief. Although he had led a life of crime he was not proud of it and he still had respect for God, something he tried to point out to his companion. Even at this late stage there was still a chance for him to try and set things right.
Of course, the cross of salvation was reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. His crucifixion was a great paradox because although he was being executed, after being falsely accused, his death would end in victory. He had never claimed to be King of the Jews, as the inscription on his cross proclaimed, but he would end up as Christ the Universal King. His cross was the means by which he took the world’s sinfulness upon himself in a glorious act of atonement. He willingly accepted to be the sacrificial victim, loving to the very end those entrusted to him by his Father. It was this salvation that he offered to the repentant thief moments before they were both to breathe their last.
The cross of sin, the cross of sorrow and the cross of salvation: we each have a choice.
Which will you choose?