I am the bad thief. Sometimes I am all demands and protestations. Sometimes I say “No.”
On Calvary next to Christ, he cursed his fate. The bad thief found himself near Christ who was right there alongside him, suffering. But instead of asking Christ for forgiveness he made demands of God. He said, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us with you."
In our worst moments, in our most desperate hours, how often have we re-created that desperate impertinence? How often have we rejected our cross?
The thief was a desperate man, so desperate that he attempted to command God. He felt failed by everyone, including God. He was angry at his fate which has brought him to that hill. In despair, he blamed Jesus. He demanded that Jesus, if he is truly God, prove it and save him. He does not accept God’s will, he wants his will to be done.
He is truly a pitiable character. And unfortunately I see him in myself.
How many times have my prayers been demands? How many times have I commanded God to do something that I thought was necessary? How many times have I suffered without humility?
I shudder sometimes to think of the paucity of my prayer life. I find that sometimes I’m much better off saying the prayers of the rosary or set prayers. When I just talk to God I find myself sometimes like an angry union member protesting work conditions. I’m a Catholic! I’m in the union! I go to the Church. I raise my children in the faith. I try hard to be loving and giving. So why don’t you (insert my demand here.)
At its heart, it is the same mistake made by so many others. I don’t want my God to suffer with me. I want my God to rise up and establish His kingdom right here, right now. I want Him to right all the wrongs right here, right now. Rid us of injustice. Take the throne. Change the world. Make it all fair. Now!
But that is not Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. I, like the bad thief, see my suffering and only my suffering. Suffering can be isolating and make one myopic. The thing I miss sometimes is that, like the bad thief, Christ is beside me. And he suffers alongside me. And I shudder to think that my behavior adds to His suffering. But I know that it does.
In the gospels we have this example. We also have the great shining example of Mary who said to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Think about how scared Mary must have been. But she assented to God’s will. No protests. No condemnation. She said “yes.”
Jesus, three decades later, while in the garden, said something similar on the eve of his crucifixion when He said, "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
He said yes.
When I pray, I often find myself not always accepting God’s will. Sometimes that’s too much for me. But I do pray for the strength to say “yes.” That is my prayer.