(Palm Sunday 2010 (C): This homily was given on March 28, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2010]
We just heard St. Luke’s account of the Passion of our Lord. Next year St. Matthew’s version will be read on Palm Sunday, and the following year we will hear St. Mark’s account. (St. John’s Passion narrative, of course, is read every year on Good Friday.)
There are certain details about the suffering and death of Jesus that all the gospel writers mention; there are some details that two or three of them mention; but there are others aspects of the story that only one of them mentions. (And that’s one of the reasons we should thank God there are 4 gospels! If there weren’t, we would know a lot less about Jesus’ suffering and death—as well as a lot less about his ministry and earthly life.)
One of the aspects of the story that’s peculiar to St. Luke’s version of the Passion is the conversion of the so-called ‘Good Thief.’ Tradition has given him the name “Dismas”—although that name is not found in the Bible.
St. John mentions that Jesus was crucified between two men; he says nothing else about them. St. Mark and St. Matthew do identify the two men as criminals of some sort, but they tell us that both of them verbally attacked Jesus as they hung alongside him on Mt. Calvary.
Only St. Luke mentions the fact that one of two thieves rebuked the other, acknowledged his guilt, repented, and then asked Jesus to remember him when our Lord came into his kingdom.
Does that mean that at least one of the gospel writers got it wrong? Is St. Luke correct? If he is, then how can Matthew and Mark also be right? Did one of the thieves repent and defend our Lord, or did both insult him?
Well, as a Catholic I believe that all 4 gospels are historically accurate on this matter, and that Matthew, Mark and Luke can be easily harmonized here.
Here’s how I believe it happened. I think that immediately after these two thieves were crucified on Good Friday, both of them did verbally attack our Lord! They heard the insults the chief priests and Pharisees were hurling at Jesus, and in their anger and frustration they joined right in!
But at some point during the time that these two men hung there with Jesus, one of them had a change of heart.
Which leads to the obvious question: Why? In other words, what led him to change? What melted his heart and led him to conversion?
Well, we don’t know for sure, but I would say that it must have had something to do with how our Lord handled his suffering!
Personally, I think the Good Thief was moved by the love and mercy he sensed in Jesus, which motivated our Lord to forgive his murderers—as he was in the process of being murdered!
“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Our Lord suffered in love. That had to have a powerful impact on this thief, who initially was suffering in anger and bitterness.
The way in which Jesus suffered evangelized this hardened criminal, melted his hard heart—and ultimately brought him to heaven! We know he’s there because Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
I mention all this because this is the year of evangelization in our diocese. When we think of evangelization, we normally think of the direct type: speaking about Jesus with our friends and family members; inviting people to come with us to Mass—or a mission—or Confession.
But today’s lesson is that evangelization can also be indirect: THE WAY WE ACT IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS, THE WAY WE TREAT OTHER PEOPLE—ESPECIALLY OUR ENEMIES; AND THE WAY WE PATIENTLY ENDURE OUR TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS CAN HAVE A POWERFUL IMPACT ON OTHER PEOPLE AND LEAD THEM TO CHRIST.
Indirect evangelization can be every bit as effective as the direct kind.
And if you don’t believe me, when you get to heaven ask the Good Thief, because that’s precisely how Jesus Christ evangelized him on Good Friday.