Society has become more politicized in recent years. When we hear the terms “right” and “left,” people line up to immediately disagree. Even before they know the topic! What are the origins of the political terms “left” and “right?” One story begins in France in 1789. As the French Revolution gained momentum, an angry mob had just stormed the Bastille. The French National Assembly gathered to act as the revolution’s government. They were to write a new constitution. The key issue was how much power the king should have. Those who believed that the king should have absolute power sat to the assembly’s president’s right. Those who thought he should not, the more radical view, sat to the left.
There is an earlier event in history that is also worth noting, with similar references to “right” and “left.” The Gospel of Luke tells us that during Jesus’ crucifixion, two other men suffering the same death were on either side of Him. The one to Jesus’s right has become known as the “Good Thief.” The one to His left is referred to as the “Unrepentant Thief.” Our good thief acknowledged the true King, like the example in the French Revolution. The unrepentant thief on the left, mocked our Savior, which was a more radical view to take. What is most interesting about these stories is that our world seeks to make us pick sides. Lines are drawn that we are never to cross. Can something be done instead to understand why the thief on the right received Grace? He received forgiveness and eternal life. What were the mistakes made on the left?
Both thieves were already on their crosses in Luke’s Gospel. We can discount any “good works” as part of the equation of salvation. Neither could be baptized. For all practical purposes, the last few moments of their lives would determine their eternal fate. Their lives of thievery and sin were over. Both men would soon die. It is this part of the story that all people should take great hope in. God’s Grace is enough for all those who seek Him, even up to the moments before death.
(Luke 23:32-38)1New International Version Translations – “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.”
It is remarkable that, while in the excruciating and mind-numbing torment of the cross, the Son of Man had the heart, mind, and will to pray for others. Both men began their time on their crosses by mocking and blaspheming Jesus. They were no different than many of the spectators. Even His disciples were busy abandoning Him. One thief, while in agony himself, heard the Spirit of God call to him to repent. He accepted the forgiveness God was about to provide. One man, the thief on the right, answered the call. His sins were forgiven, including his blasphemy against the Son of God (Luke 5:31-32, 12:8–10) just a few minutes earlier.
The thief on the left, at the point of death, rejected Jesus. While being tortured himself, he joined his torturers in insulting the Savior of the world. He most likely did so because he wanted his torturers to think he was like them. A man of the world! Many like him are proud of their hatred of God (Matthew 27:44). It is hard to give either man any excuses. Not only were they next to the Savior, but they could also hear Jesus pray. Both men could hear the testimony of Jesus as He was dying and as they were dying. Both men could see the world go dark. The humility of repentance saved one, while the sin of pride condemned the other.
What can be learned from this story is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. No matter how great our sins are, no matter if we or the world think our sins are minor or extreme, it is never too late to repent and accept the gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9; Revelation 22:17). It takes a mind and the will to choose life over death (Hebrews 9:27) It is also never too late to proclaim the Gospel’s message to someone else.
Repentance is a change of mind, a change of purpose, and a change in direction. Repentance is turning away from previous sinful behavior, attitudes, or opinions. True repentance goes beyond saying we are sorry for something. True repentance results in a new behavior pleasing in God’s sight. Repentance, however, does not always shield us from the consequences of our actions. The good thief died that day.
(Romans 6:23) – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Gospels do not mention specific names for the thieves. In the Catholic faith, by tradition, they are given names. The good thief is named Saint Dismas and the unrepentant thief is named Gestas. While both men were suffering the same gruesome execution and both were in the presence of Jesus, their reactions to their situation were quite different. Gestas, the unrepentant thief, mocks Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) Gestas asks Jesus to come down from his cross.
The good thief, Dismas, does not ask to be taken down from his sure and painful death. Instead, he rebukes Gestas and proclaims Jesus’ innocence. He asks, instead, to be taken up with Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Our lesson is not about placing hope in this world but in the promise of the next. Which man do you relate to? Will you hang with Jesus on the right or the left side? All must make that choice one day! Will you be on the “right,” supporting the One and Only King, or to the “left,” taking up the radical views of our world?
(2 Corinthians 7:10) – “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Solomon, who is considered the wisest man to ever live, gave us this final thought to ponder. He may very well have set the stage for the final categorization of political parties.
(Ecclesiastes 10:2) – “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”
- What do you think of when you hear that someone is on the “right” side of an issue or the “left” side?
- Ideas to Explore: Why have these words become political, and so polarizing? Can someone from the right of an issue and the left of an issue ever agree? Is agreement even a good idea?
- We do live in a binary world. There is a right and wrong answer to all issues. How do you decide your position?
- Ideas to Explore: Right seems to be staying the course, while Left seems to take the more controversial position – Does this always mean you must choose a side? Is middle ground ever a wrong conclusion?
- Who wins if we stop common-sense discourse?
- Ideas to Explore: Divisiveness itself is not new, but the addition of hatred is – Why? Who wins when we hate each other? How do two people, one placing their faith in Jesus and the other placing their faith in the world, come to common ground? Is that a reasonable expectation?
- Even close to death, one thief did not seek Jesus as the Savior – Why do you think that some people just will not accept Jesus as the Son of God?
- Ideas to Explore: The world is very enticing. Some may not believe in eternal life. Repentance is not always easy. Fear of consequences of the world more than consequences from God.
- 1New International Version Translations