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Jesus and the Good Thief in the Catechism

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Jesus and the Good Thief

The Gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King (Year C) is mentioned in several places in the Catechism. To be noted among these are the historical notes (440, 591, 597), and the observations relevant to prayer (2605, 2616). Finally, there is also an observation made regarding society’s penal system which should be ordered towards conversion and rehabilitation (2266).

Luke 23:34

591. Jesus asked the religious authorities of Jerusalem to believe in him because of the Father’s works which he accomplished.[Jn 10:36-38] But such an act of faith must go through a mysterious death to self, for a new “birth from above” under the influence of divine grace.[Cf. Jn 3:7; 6:44] Such a demand for conversion in the face of so surprising a fulfillment of the promises[Cf. Isa 53:1] allows one to understand the Sanhedrin’s tragic misunderstanding of Jesus: they judged that he deserved the death sentence as a blasphemer.[Cf. Mk 3:6; Mt 26:64-66.] The members of the Sanhedrin were thus acting at the same time out of “ignorance” and the “hardness” of their “unbelief”.[Cf. Lk 23:34; Acts 3:17-18; Mk 3:5; Rom 11:25, 20]

597. The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles’ calls to conversion after Pentecost.[Cf. Mk 15:11; Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-14; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:27-28; 1 Thess 2:14-15.] Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept “the ignorance” of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders.[Cf. Lk 23:34; Acts 3:17] Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd’s cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!”, a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.[Mt 27:25; cf. Acts 5:28; 18:6] As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council:

[N]either all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . [T]he Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture.[NA 4]

2605. When the hour had come for him to fulfill the Father’s plan of love, Jesus allows a glimpse of the boundless depth of his filial prayer, not only before he freely delivered himself up (“Abba . . . not my will, but yours.”),[Lk 22:42] but even in his last words on the Cross, where prayer and the gift of self are but one: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”;[Lk 23:34] “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” [Lk 23:43], “Woman, behold your son” – “Behold your mother”;[Jn 19:26-27] “I thirst.”;[Jn 19:28] “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”;[Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:2] “It is finished”;[Jn 19:30] “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”[Lk 23:46] until the “loud cry” as he expires, giving up his spirit.[Cf. Mk 15:37; Jn 19:30b]

Luke 23:39-43

440. Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.(Cf. Mt 16:16-23.) He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”, and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Jn 3:13; Mt 20:28; cf. Jn 6:62; Dan 7:13; Isa 53:10-12.) Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross. (Cf. Jn 19:19-22; Lk 23:39-43) Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36.)


Prayer to Jesus is answered by him already during his ministry, through signs that anticipate the power of his death and Resurrection: Jesus hears the prayer of faith, expressed in words (the leper, Jairus, the Canaanite woman, the good thief)(Cf. Mk 1:40-41; 5:36; 7:29; Cf. Lk 23:39-43) or in silence (the bearers of the paralytic, the woman with a hemorrhage who touches his clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman).(Cf. Mk 25; 5:28; Lk 7:37-38) The urgent request of the blind men, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” has-been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”(Mt 9:27, Mk 10:48) Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

St. Augustine wonderfully summarizes the three dimensions of Jesus’ prayer: “He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us.”(St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 85,1:PL 37,1081; cf. GILH 7)

Luke 23: 40-43

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (Cf. Lk 23:40-43).

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