An Irony of Redemption
by S M Chen
by S M Chen
submitted June 12, 2014
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:8
The Gospels of the New Testament record the interaction of Christ with people from all walks of life. Many of those interactions are likely necessarily described but briefly (e.g. Samaritan woman at the well; healing of the ten lepers; miraculous feeding of the five thousand, etc.).
They do not tell us about the rest of the lives of those individuals. Like us, they each had their story.
Matthew (19:16) and Mark (10:17) recorded the encounter of the rich young ruler (henceforth referred to as RYR, for sake of brevity) with Jesus. After the RYR had assured Christ he had kept all the commandments from his youth (as a prerequisite to eternal life), Christ invited him to sell his possessions and become His follower. The RYR turned away in sorrow because he treasured his wealth; it was too great a sacrifice. Whereupon Christ commented to His disciples how difficult it was for the rich to enter into the Kingdom (as indeed it may be).
The story ends here, and we are left to probably conclude, as indeed I did for many years, that the RYR eventually perished with his riches, to be numbered in the group on the left hand of God in the judgment.
I would like to posit that, given the will of God that all should come to repentance, and the transience of wealth (see the book of Job), this is what (I imagine) could have instead happened to the RYR.
Not long after his decision not to follow Christ’s injunction, the RYR fell on hard times, and, for reason(s) unknown, lost his wealth, in toto and precipitously. Subsequently he was to rue not ridding himself of his possessions when he had had an opportunity to liquidate them and do some good.
Like many of us, he was a slow learner. Instead of this turn of events, which reduced him to penury, drawing him closer to the Almighty, he decided to turn to a life of crime in an attempt to restore, if partially, his standard of living in a rapid, albeit illicit, manner.
One might have thought that the virtuous upbringing of the RYR would have saved him, but it didn’t. He turned from the light and his heart became, to use the words of Joseph Conrad, a Heart of Darkness.
He descended into a life of thievery, and was one of the bandits who attacked the Jew traveling the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, robbing him and leaving him for dead. Only the subsequent kindness of the Good Samaritan saved the traveler.
Over time, the RYR was able to improve his assets and lifestyle, but in the process of robbing, he necessarily committed crimes of assault and passion and, ultimately, murder of the most heinous kind. His descent into the mire of evil seemed complete.
Attempting to avoid being caught was akin to trying to slip dawn past a rooster. In due time the RYR was apprehended, tried and sentenced by a Roman tribunal.
Since he was a Jew, the punishment was execution by crucifixion.
During his life of crime, before he was apprehended, the RYR had had occasion to witness the ministry of Christ and His disciples. They seemed not to recognize him or, if they did, perhaps wishing to not embarrass him because of their prior encounter, did not acknowledge him. He was drawn to the Son of man and His teachings, but not enough to persuade him to abandon his sinful ways. The lucre he accumulated continued to be filthy.
On that fateful Friday, he found himself, after being flogged and tortured, bound to a cross on the hill of Golgotha, along with two other men. Hanging on the middle cross was Christ, and on Christ’s left, another criminal also deserving of execution.
In the beginning, the RYR joined the other criminal in deriding Christ. We each carry within ourselves the seeds of self destruction. The battle for supremacy of our souls between the forces of light and darkness continues to the end. Had the RYR perished at this point, there is little doubt he would have gone to perdition (and perhaps writers of the Gospels would not have included this interplay between the thieves and Christ in their record of His last hours).
However, as time passed, and the RYR observed the demeanor of Jesus, he became convinced of His innocence and defended Him against the railings of the other criminal. Remembering the words and acts of Christ from the time of their first encounter, his stony heart softened into one of flesh.
And, perhaps like a drowning man going down for the third time, he finally had a spiritual epiphany.
Shortly before the ninth hour, on the verge of death, the RYR cum thief turned to Christ and entreated, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.”
And Christ, Himself about to perish, with a voice full of love and pity, despite His own spiritual and physical agony, replied, “I say unto you today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”
So it came to pass that, unable to gain the hope of immortality when he was leading a righteous life but rich in this world’s goods, the RYR, with redemptive irony, succeeded in being gifted the Kingdom at a time when he was clearly not righteous and about to depart the world with nothing but a contrite spirit.
And, although he did not realize it at the time, the RYR will one day appreciate the sublimity of the fact that, had he been the only human on Earth to accept the gift so freely offered by the Son of man, Christ would still have died – for him alone.