One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NLT)
It is never too late. While we have breath we can get right with God. We never give up on those who seem resistant to Jesus’ offer of mercy. In the fog of medication, in the midst of pain, in the depths of dementia, it is still possible for people to call out to God. It may be a whisper or even just a thought or a wish. But it can be enough.
In such cases no time for a course introducing the faith, no time to explain the atoning death of Jesus or solve some of the ambiguities of Scripture. No time for church involvement or for instruction in faith sharing. Just time for a request to be remembered, to place oneself in the hands of a gracious God.
Jesus’ encounter with the thief on the cross reminds us of the possibility of last minute conversion. The thief probably knew little or nothing about the way of salvation, but he did recognise his need of mercy and Jesus’ capacity to give it.
This episode comforts us but also challenges us. The fact that there is this encounter reminds us it is never too late. But the fact that there is only one such encounter is a warning against complacency.