READ: Luke 23:39-49
“They crucified Jesus between two thieves, one on his left and one on his right. One of the thieves mocked Jesus by asking, ‘Are you not the Messiah? If so, then save yourself and us along with you.’ But the other thief spoke up and challenged that thief, “Have you no fear of God, none whatsoever? You received the same death sentence as he did, but you and I, we merited our punishment, while this man Jesus has done nothing wrong!’ Then he said to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him by saying, ‘I tell you the truth, my man. This day you will be with me in Paradise.‘” – Luke 23:39-43
The sky drew dark. Three men awaiting death while they hang from rusted nails on wooden crosses. Their backs bleeding and scarred from cruel whips. One man’s head marked with the wounds of a crown of thorns. Some souls jeering and cheering at the execution; other souls, weeping and mourning. All this tortured drama being tragically played out on a hilltop stage of jagged rocks which carry the haunting name, The Place of the Skull. And in the midst of all this horror and cruelty, Jesus carries a soul with Him into a far different realm, a realm of joy hidden deep within this realm of suffering, but a few moments journey away, a realm that carries the comforting name, Paradise.
Within the Darkness, Light; within the Dying, Life; within the Suffering, Peace.
On the southwest corner of my writer’s cabin that serves as my imaginary hermitage here at my imaginary monastery stands a large and angry bush. It is about six feet tall and, I might guess, twenty feet in circumference, maybe more. Like I mentioned, it is an angry bush, mean and hurtful. I do not know its name. Its spiky, purple flowers remind me of Scottish thistles. And those purple flowers are guarded by a Roman legion of sharp and lethal thorns. More than once, I have drawn blood by accidentally rubbing up against that devilish bush. But today, in a most unexpected happening, a small flock of yellow butterflies have come to harvest the nectar from that thorny bush. Somehow these smaller-sized butterflies – all the color of those lemon ices I used to buy when I was a young ‘un – find a way to maneuver through and around all those cruel thorns and get to those spiky, purple flowers. As I watched them fly in and out of that bush, I had to ask, “Why do these little creatures take such a risk? Surely there are easier flowers for them to harvest, such as those daisies over there in that patch of green grass just down the way. Why do these delicate creatures dare deal with those wicked thorns?” Of course, it is because … they know hidden within those thorny branches there is nectar to be found, and with that nectar, life.
Of all the places for Jesus to utter those words … “My wounded, guilty and now repentant friend who suffers with me on this hill of anguish … today we will be together in a beautiful place, a place filled with Light and Life and Peace, a place called Paradise.”
An essential of Benedictine spirituality is a never-ending, relentless search for the nectar to be found within the thorns, the divine realm to be found within this very mortal realm, the peace within the struggle, the good within the suffering. Within this sinful realm, there exists a heavenly realm waiting to be found … waiting to be found by those who so desperately want to find it.
Brother Anthony of the Cross