When I was a little girl my mom told me about a reoccurring dream she had throughout her life. Nope it wasn’t about those dreaded snakes that you cannot get rid of or the slow motion attempts to reach your destination. She told me that in her dream, she saw a gorgeous painting in the sky. She said that it had the most beautiful hues of reds, golds, blues, greens and so on. Her face lit up as she described the glorious artwork. She felt this must be a picture of paradise. Despite the joy in seeing this reoccurring picture, she always felt a bit frustrated with this dream because each time she tried to get a closer look it moved behind a tree or out of sight. I can still remember how her eyes sparkled as she recalled the beauty of the picture and she hoped that someday she would get to see the picture up close.
It is always during Holy week when we once again hear the word paradise. God’s Son Jesus was crucified with two criminals on either side of him. They felt the same pain, shame and the brutality of crucifixion. The thief on the right of Jesus seemed to notice something different about the holy man labeled King of the Jews. He heard Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing?” (23:34). How could he forgive his persecutors? He watched as the man showed compassion for his mother by securing a home for her before he died. What kind of man takes care of others when he is suffering unbearable pain an unable to draw a full breath? The guilty man saw that there was something different about this King and he wanted to know more but time was short. He could only speak these words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). The man Jesus surprised him by promising that, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk..23:43). Shortly after he spoke those life-giving words, the innocent man drew his last few breaths and whispered, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Then he was gone.
This criminal was given a promise to be with Jesus through eternity and in the beautiful paradise of heaven. He did not have to meet any criteria like attending new member classes or confirmation or even baptism; he only needed to believe. Jesus knew his heart had changed and the God of love accepted him as he was. Christ’s death on the cross, paved the way for all of us to be with him in paradise forever. In her dream, my mom had a glimpse of the perfection and beauty of what paradise might look like and I believe she is now basking in the vivid colors inside the picture of her dreams. She is joyfully dancing in paradise with all of the saints… including the thief on the right.