Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Jesus, Remember Me, When You Come Into Your Kingdom"

Today's The Solemnity of Christ the King: the last day in Ordinary Time. The gospel reading for today was Luke 23:35-43. That's one of the parts where my Lord didn't look all that 'kingly.' He'd been tortured, and as the gospel reading opens Jesus is already nailed to the cross and being taunted. Picking up the dialog a few verses in:
"6Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.'

"The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, 'Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?

"And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.'

"Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

"He replied to him, 'Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' "
(Luke 23:39-43)
That's one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Mostly because of the kind of faith shown by the penitent thief.

Back on Friday, I wrote about the 'dark side' of Bible study: the sort of weird things that can happen when Holy Writ and enthusiasm collide. (November 19, 2010) I think I'm on fairly solid ground with what I'm going to write next, though.

The thief and Jesus weren't speaking English. The language I use wouldn't exist - in its present form - for over a thousand years when that conversation took place. It's possible (not likely, in my opinion) that words other than, say, "rebuking" and "condemnation" might be an equally-reasonable translation. Which is another topic.

On the other hand, I think one word in particular is the sort that translates fairly directly and clearly: "when."1

The penitent thief might - if he'd been an insanely-optimistic fellow - have asked " 'Jesus, remember me if you come into your kingdom.' " Remember: Jesus was nailed to a cross, right next to that thief, wearing nothing but a crown of thorns and his own blood. There was every reason to expect that Jesus was going to die. Which he did.

But no, the thief asked, " 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' " Not "if:" "when."

Now, that's faith.

I'd like to know why the penitent thief was so certain about Jesus. God willing, I'll get a chance to ask him. In my Lord's kingdom.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:And remember: I write with the full authority of "some guy with a blog."
1 I'm one of those folks who reads dictionaries for fun, which explains what I wrote about "if" and "when," after that paragraph:

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says that "if" means:
    1. in the event that
    2. allowing that
    3. on the assumption that
    4. on condition that
There's more to the definition, but the key point is that "if" is for 'conditional' statements, like "if I pass this test, we'll celebrate;" or "if I get the money, I'll pay you back."

That's not how the penitent thief's statement got translated. He said "when."

Merriam-Webster time again. "When" means:
  1. at what time
    1. at or during which time
    2. and then
    3. at a former and usually less prosperous time
"If" is what we say when something may or may not happen. "When" is more definite. It's what we say when there isn't much - or any - doubt.

I'm going out in a limb a little here, but since being fairly certain about some things and rather uncertain about others seems likely to be a universal condition among humanity: my guess is that most languages have words that mean "if," and other words that mean "when."

Remember: I said "among humanity." It's likely that we've both known folks who apparently think that everything's definite - and that they're the ones who know what's so. And that's yet another topic.

I think I was right, cutting this out of the middle of the post, and dropping it here.


Brigid said...

Extra word now: "most languages have a words that"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks! Fixed it.

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