General Audience: On the Two Thieves

“Jesus is truly the face of the Father’s mercy. And the good thief called Him by name: ‘Jesus.’ It is a brief invocation, and we can all do it many times during the day: ‘Jesus,’ simply ‘Jesus.'”

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Here is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address as this morning’s general audience.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
The words that Jesus pronounces during His Passion find their culmination in forgiveness:
Jesus forgives: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They are not just words, because they become a concrete act of forgiveness offered to the “good thief,” who was beside Him. Saint Luke talks about two evildoers crucified with Jesus, who turn to Him with opposite attitudes.
The first insults Him, as all the people insulted Him, as the leaders of the people did, but this poor man, driven by despair, says: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). This cry testifies to the anguish of man in face of the mystery of death and the tragic awareness that only God can be the liberating answer: therefore, it is unthinkable that the Messiah, the one sent by God, can be on the cross without doing anything to save Himself. And they did not understand this. They did not understand the mystery of Jesus’ sacrifice. And, instead, Jesus has saved us by staying on the cross. All of us know that it is not easy to “stay on the cross,” on our small crosses of every day. He stayed on this great cross, in this great suffering, and He saved us there; He showed us His omnipotence there and He forgave us there. Fulfilled there was His self-giving of love; from it flows forever our salvation. By dying on the cross, innocent between two criminals, He attests that God’s salvation can reach any man in any condition, even the most negative and painful. God’s salvation is for all; no one is excluded. It is offered to all.
Hence, the Jubilee is a time of grace and mercy for all, good and evil, those who are healthy and those who suffer. Remember that parable that Jesus tells on the celebration of the marriage of the son of a powerful man of the earth: when those invited did not want to go, he said to his servants: “Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find” (Matthew 22:9). We are all called: the good and the evil. The Church is not just for the good and for those who seem to be good or believe they are good; the Church is for all, and even preferably for the evil, because the Church is mercy. And this time of grace and mercy reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! (cf. Romans 8:39). To those who are nailed on a hospital bed, to those living closed in a prison, to those who are trapped by wars, I say: look at the Crucified One; God is with you, He stays with you on the cross and offers Himself to all of us as Savior. To you who suffer so much I say, Jesus is crucified for you, for us, for all. Allow the strength of the Gospel to penetrate your heart and to console you; may it give you hope and the profound certainty that no one is excluded from His forgiveness. But you can ask me: “But tell me, Father, does one who has done the worst things in life have the possibility of being forgiven?” Yes! Yes, no one is excluded from God’s forgiveness. He must only approach Jesus repentant and with the desire to be embraced by Him.
This was the first evildoer. The other is the so-called “good thief.” His words are a wonderful model of repentance, a concentrated catechesis to learn to ask Jesus for forgiveness. First, he turns to his companion: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40). Thus he highlights the point of departure of repentance: fear of God, no: filial fear of God. It is not fear but that respect that is due to God because He is God. It is a filial respect because He is Father. The good thief recalls the fundamental attitude that opens to trust in God: the awareness of His omnipotence and His infinite goodness. It is this confident respect that helps to make room for God and to entrust oneself to His mercy.
Then, the good thief declares Jesus’ innocence and confesses his guilt openly: “We indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Therefore Jesus is there, on the cross, to be with the guilty: through this closeness He offers them salvation. What is a scandal for the leaders and for the first thief, for those who were there, who made a mockery of Jesus, this is, instead, the foundation of the latter’s faith. And thus the good thief becomes a witness of Grace; the unthinkable has happened: God has loved me to such a point that He died on the cross for me. The faith itself of this man is the fruit of Christ’s grace: his eyes contemplate in the Crucified One God’s love for him, poor sinner. It is true, he was a thief, he was a robber, he robbed all his life. But at the end, repentant of what he had done, looking at Jesus so good and merciful, he succeeded in stealing Heaven for himself: this was <indeed> a good thief!
Finally, the good thief turns directly to Jesus, invoking His help: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42). He calls Him by His name, “Jesus,” with confidence, and so he confesses what that name indicates: “the Lord saves”: this is what the name “Jesus” means. That man asks Jesus to remember him. How much tenderness there is in this expression, how much humanity! It is the human being’s need not to be abandoned, that God be always close to him. Thus, a man sentenced to death becomes a model of the Christian who entrusts himself to Jesus. A man sentenced to death is a model for us, a model for a man, for a Christian who entrusts himself to Jesus; and also a model of the Church that so often in the liturgy invokes the Lord saying: “Remember … Remember your love …”
While the good thief speaks of the future: “when you enter into your Kingdom,” Jesus’ answer is not long in coming; he speaks of the present: “today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). In the hour of the cross, Jesus’ salvation reaches its culmination, and His promise to the good thief reveals the fulfilment of His mission: that is to save sinners. At the beginning of His ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus proclaimed “release to the captives” (Luke 4:18); at Jericho, in the house of the public sinner Zacchaeus, He declared that “the Son of man – namely He —  came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9). On the cross, His last act confirms the realization of this salvific plan. From the beginning to the end He revealed Himself Mercy, He revealed Himself the definitive and unrepeatable incarnation of the Father’s love. Jesus is truly the face of the Father’s mercy. And the good thief called Him by name: “Jesus.” It is a brief invocation, and we can all do it many times during the day: “Jesus,” simply “Jesus.” And do so during the whole day.
[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by ZENIT]
In Italian
A warm welcome to Italian-speaking pilgrims!
I am happy to receive the faithful of the Dioceses of Ascoli Piceno, — you have also suffered! –, with the Bishop, Monsignor Giovanni D’Ercole, and of Otranto with the Archbishop, Monsignor Donato Negro, and those of Modena-Nonantola. Dear brothers and sisters, may your pilgrimage for the Holy Year express the significance of communion with the universal Church and make you witnesses of mercy in your local churches.
I greet the delegation of the Diocese of Rome that has prepared the Week of the Family, which will be held from October 2-8. Shortly, I will light a torch for them, symbol of the love of the families of Rome and of the whole world.
A special thought goes to the Archbishop of Potenza and to the group of laid off workers of Basilicata, and I hope that their grave occupational circumstance will find a positive solution through an incisive commitment on the part of all to open ways of hope. The percentage of unemployment cannot go up more!
I greet the participants in the General Chapter of the Tertiary Capuchin Sisters of the Holy Family; the Elderly Association with the cyclists of the Generals Group; the participants in the “Italian Wonder Ways” initiative with the Bishop, Monsignor Paolo Giulietti; and the faithful of Pieve di Soligo, here present to observe the anniversary of John Paul I’s death.
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the example of charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, whom we remembered yesterday as Patron of charitable associations, lead you, dear young people, to carry out the plans of your future with a joyful and selfless service to your neighbor. May it help you, dear sick, to face suffering with your gaze turned to Christ. And may it solicit you, dear newlyweds, to build a family that is always open to the poor and to the gift of life.
[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by ZENIT]
The Holy Father’s Appeal
My thought goes once again to beloved and martyred Syria. Tragic news continues to reach me on the fate of the populations of Aleppo, to whom I feel united in their suffering, through prayer and spiritual closeness. In expressing profound grief and intense concern for all that is happening in this already martyred city, where children, elderly, the sick, young people, old people, so many die … I renew to all the appeal to commit themselves with all their strength to the protection of civilians as an imperative and urgent obligation. I appeal to the conscience of those responsible for the bombardments, who will have to render account before God!
[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by ZENIT]

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