A prayer for all
Arthur Middleton
‘Father forgive’ is a prayer for everyone in all ages, for all time. The first to respond was not some learned sage conversant with the Scriptures waiting on God. It was a hardened criminal, hardened by brutal and selfish crime, but a man who had accepted his punishment as the justice he deserved. There can be nothing harder than the criminal heart, the hardness deaf to the pleadings of his victims and without compassion for them. Yet it is this simple thief and criminal who recognizes, where the Jewish religious authorities could not, a king according to a new measure of kingliness.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ is a real prayer from a man pinned down by the harsh experience of reality. It is when the barricades are down and truth can penetrate that we realize that without God our strength is an illusion. It prompts him to make his confession, to put aside and forget all his grievances in order to accept the transformed life that God’s love and forgiveness brings. His prayer is the plea of a man disillusioned with what life has been and asking God to give a meaning to it.

Disillusionment is what connects this bandit and life today. Despite the so-called ‘progress’ in technology, living standards, education and health, a sickness and despair pollutes the spirit of our times. It seems to be in open rebellion to God. There is hardness to the things of the Spirit that does not want to be concerned with the things of God.

The situation of life today reflects something of Calvary, with one criminal unrepentant and hardened in the values by which he has always lived; and the other being drawn to a completely different set of values. Society today has been rather like a thief in stealing the life and time God has given it and using it for its own ends. We are reaping the reward of that theft in the crime, frustration, despair and unreality of life today.

Prayer becomes real

‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’ is a prayer for all who are surrounded by good fortune, yet do not have faith; a prayer for our society, which Mother Theresa said that for all its riches was very poor because it lacked communion with God, the vision of an eternal throne.

It is when, like the thief, life pins us down and forces us to ask fundamental questions, that prayer becomes real. Such prayer knows that the past cannot be changed but there is dawning the awareness that God can change its meaning and significance. It is a cry for communion with God. It is a profound sense of our need to be open to God, of our dependence on God, our need for his grace. ND