Word Magazine March 1970 Page 6
“One of the criminals hanging there abused him, ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. 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. Jesus,’ he said, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
“‘Indeed I promise you,’ he replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’” (LUKE 23:39)
We must be cautious in our understanding of the gospel of the Last Judgment. St. Matthew 25 : 31-46, regarding the separation of the sheep from the goats. Jesus used that illustration in order to demonstrate the completeness of the separation between good and evil persons, which would be quite vivid to the persons of his time who were able to visualize a Palestinian shepherd bringing his animals down from the hillside and putting them to sleep for the night. Goats were black and sheep white, the contrast being obvious.
We are not to imagine that human beings are so easily divided into good and bad. Each person is able to be transformed entirely, until the moment of his death. There is no division of humanity into sacred and wicked. The thief who repented on the cross at the moment of his death is the best testimony to our Lord’s power of transforming the total character of another being. Criminals normally do not behave in that manner.
The reason we are told never to judge another is because we in our criticism are denying the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Who are we to say they will never be any better? If we really know ourselves we know more than anything else our limitations. How dare we pass sentence if we haven’t all the facts before us?
If we call ourselves Christian, we rejoice in the power that is in Christ to transform all that is wicked and wrong into purity and goodness. If we deny that possibility, we deny Him. This is why we are not permitted to despair, to lose hope, to submit to the sickness of resignation to the status quo of the world. “Christ is among us” we say to each other, and by that we mean that He is at work through the Holy Spirit, in the midst of the vestiges of corruption we see all around us.
He is able to forgive all things; in a moment He erases the past of our soiled life, and we are given life back once more as if it were new. Who else can offer the same? Are the young campus radicals able to forgive, when they cannot even tolerate maturity? Are we to rejoice that society is to collapse with no promise of redeeming it even offered? Where in the world is there talk of forgiveness, of redemption, of hope for the future?
The voices we are hearing are not forgiving, but of those who feel themselves righteous; yet Christ came for the sinners. He came not with cheap grace, a forgiveness of words, an aspirin for the cancer of mankind. He came as God’s Son with the power of forgiving, and He won the right to forgive sins by the suffering He bore in His body. This is how we are healed.
—Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio