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§ 291. Christ Prays for his Enemies.— The Two Thieves.

When he was fastened to the cross, amid the jeers and scoffs of the carnal multitude, He did not invoke the Divine judgments upon the heads of those who had, returning evil for good, inflicted such terrible tortures upon him; on the contrary, with boundless love,785785   Thus illustrating practically his precepts in the Sermon on the Mount. he commended his enemies to the mercy of God, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (the ignorance of delusion, though a guilty one).

Two criminals, of widely opposite dispositions, were crucified with him. While the one, hardened in sin, joined in mocking Christ, the other rebuked him for so doing. Perhaps the men’s offences had been different; the one may have been a common robber, the other a criminal led away by the political passions that then excited the nation—like the Sicarii,786786   As Barabbas, Luke, xxiii., 19. the tools of the hierarchy; but on this question we have no light. At any rate, one of them, roused to a sense of sin and guilt, became susceptible of higher impressions. And the deeper his consciousness that his own punishment was justly due to his crimes, the more deeply must he have been affected by the sufferings of the Holy One beside him. Who can reckon the power of a Divine impression upon a contrite soul—a soul freed from the bonds of sense by immediate sufferings?

It is at once a proof as well of the Divine life manifested by Christ in the very face of death, as of the religious susceptibility of the criminal himself, that he, who had perhaps before seen none of the proofs of Christ’s majesty, should have anticipated the faith even of Apostles; and this he did in trampling upon Jewish prejudices, and recognizing the Messiah in the sufferer. “Lord,” said he, “remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The answer of Christ787787   Its contradiction to ordinary Jewish notions proves its originality. is full of import in more respects than one. In view of the sinner’s faith, founded on genuine repentance, he promises him bliss; and in opposition to the expectation that His kingdom was only to be founded in the future, he promises him immediate bliss: “Verily, I say unto thee, to-day. shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”788788   A symbolical name for the regions of bliss.

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