The list was long, my time was short, my head was down when I practically walked into a shopping cart pushed by a woman walking out of the store where I was hurrying in. She was an ordinary blond woman in her early thirties. I might have passed her any other time and wouldn't have noticed her. I stepped out of her way exactly as two men rushed out of the store, and one grabbed her from behind. She immediately said, "Hey, what are you doing?" I thought it was some friend, maybe even her husband teasing her. But then the other man (a very tall man I've actually mistaken for Beve when catching a glimpse of him peripherally) stepped between me and her cart and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. I sidestepped to keep from being hit by them, my heart pounding. The woman yelled another fraction of a minute as her arms were pinned behind her back, and then something kind of sank in her. Completely sank. Like all the air and heart and everything else had popped with the balloon of having been caught.
I kept walking into the store, glancing at another woman about my age who had also watched this drama unfold on this sunny Wednesday afternoon. She turned toward Starbucks, I headed back to the Pharmacy, but for a single moment we really looked at each other. She put her hand on her chest. "Yeah," I said. "I know."
It took a long time for my heart to stop racing. But then I thought of that woman, and how her heart was probably racing, somewhere--in a police car? the store?--and though I guessed there must have been pretty strong evidence for those two undercover (though no longer undercover to me!) cops to cuff her, it made me feel very sad. Maybe she has a family at home thinking mom was just picking up a few things for dinner. That's how she looked to me, anyway.
That's the way we humans tend to see things, though. That tattooed, hoodied,saggy-jean-ed, scruffy-faced young man was the one who pinned the nicely-coiffed woman's arms behind her back. If you'd have told me ahead of time, I'd have pointed my finger at the wrong person.
Two thieves were killed beside Jesus. I don't know what they'd stolen--we aren't told that. And it doesn't matter. We usually look at their place in His story as side notes, "He was crucified between two common thieves." But what if we turn it on its head, so that the only place God ever intended Jesus to die was between thieves. That had been His plan all along. He is Sovereign, after all. And the reality is that those two men hanging for their crimes represent us. We are, one way or another, all thieves. "All have sinned," of course. We all deserve to be handcuffed and carted off to jail for the crimes we have done against God. We might clean up well, put on our best face, but inside, we're exactly as they are. Yes, exactly like them. So there they were...and right between them--(between us!)--God Himself breathing the same bloody, painful gasps they were breathing.
God judges not our outward appearances but the content of our heart, Samuel is reminded when he goes looking for the king God intends to replace Saul. Shoot, if we're honest enough, even we know how much more like those thieves who had the crosses to the left and right of Jesus' we are than we pretend to be. We jeer, and steal all kinds of things like joy and hope and time and our own peace. Contentment. You get my point. I once heard someone say that all sin is a form of robbery (though I can't remember who now, sorry!) --stealing something from God and taking it for ourselves. And that's why Him dying between thieves was so purposeful. So exactly right. Because we are all thieves. We have all taken our lives into our own hands and made an absolute hash of them, a botched up job. Yep, thieves but pretty poor ones. Pity us. And we deserve what we get. Like that one thief told the other that day. "We deserve this. But He did nothing wrong. Remember me when you enter your Kingdom." And so he's right, that robber. We deserve it.
But for one thing. The man in the middle. The one who took the handcuffs for me, was led off in my place. And died. That's the truth of it. The only place He was going to die was between thieves.
That is why He came. Thank God for that. And thank God that even hanging there, with barely a breath, even at the last second, with only a few words left to say, He had enough to say to that believing thief, or thieving believer, "This day--this very day--you'll be with me in Paradise."
Now that's something worth dying for.