Today you will be with me in Paradise. What does Jesus mean? In the context of Good Friday, it seems clear: he is telling the thief he will be with Jesus in Paradise after they die on the cross.
But what is does this mean to us here today?
Many Christians seem to believe is the main point of their Christian faith getting into Paradise, on getting into heaven, or at the very least not condemned to hell.
Many Christians seem to center their spiritual practice on getting this free pass to paradise, or at least a free get out of hell card, like the get out of jail card in the game of Monopoly. That’s not what Jesus emphasized in his ministry: it is not the authentic way to follow Jesus.
In the years since the first Good Friday and the first Easter Sunday, some Christians have moved farther and farther away from the life Jesus led and the lessons Jesus taught. They have walked farther and farther away from the real, authentic path of spiritual practice that Jesus walked so many years ago.
This growing obsession with securing a place in Paradise has obscured the authentic message of Jesus the Christ. Getting into heaven is the main point of too many sermons. Interestingly, the instructions on how to get into heaven often centers on doing exactly what the Preacher says you should do. This kind of preaching teaches patriarchy and clerical authority, not the real way of Jesus; it is not an authentic way to be a Christian.
Sometimes some preachers can talk about seems to be sin (yours), Hellfire (possibly yours), and damnation (definitely yours if you don’t believe do as preacher says). What you believe seems more important than how you live.
But that’s not what Jesus preached. And it is not how Jesus lived his life. Instead, Jesus preached of a more authentic way of life, one focused on here and now, on how we follow God here and how we treat each other. He also did not seek to establish a church of people devoted to worshipping him here on Earth.
Instead, Jesus focused on finding people who would follow him, who would walk with him, who would reflect his way of living in their daily lives. Just talking the talk didn’t cut it: you had to walk the walk: you had to live a Jesus life.
What was important to Jesus, and to early Christians, was changing your life here on Earth. By transforming your life here on Earth to reflect the authentic teachings of Jesus the Christ, people aimed to bring the kingdom of God a little bit closer to their time and place.
The kingdom of God Jesus envisioned was one based on loving God and loving each other here on Earth. The way Jesus taught and lived drew people to follow him; to set aside their old lives, drew them to walk a spiritual path found a radical rabbi from the wrong side of the tracks. Why did they follow Jesus?
People followed because Jesus transformed their lives, changed them irrevocably, and drew them into a kind of earthly paradise where how you lived was more important than your nationality or religion or gender or occupation. And that is the mind of paradise we are called to consider and help create on this Good Friday here at the corner of Turk and Lyon Streets in San Francisco.