The Bible says that Jesus was joined in crucifixion by two men. One to his right, and one to his left. All three men were condemned to die slow, painful deaths while put on display by abusive authority figures for the benefit of bloodthirsty onlookers.
One of the condemned men, seemingly oblivious to his own similar predicament, echoed the sarcastic and degrading calls of the crowd for Jesus to save himself.
The other man publicly recognized his status as a criminal, and believed his fate to be just. He recognized the difference between himself and a man facing condemnation despite innocence.
Jesus made a plea for the ignorant, acknowledged the sincerity of the remorseful, and accepted his unjust punishment.
Despite any differences they may have had in life, all three men died the death of a severe criminal.
I think about this story frequently. I don’t do it out of a sense of religious obligation, I think about it because the small exchange between the three men reveals enough to perfectly illustrate the three types of convict that we have in today’s society, and how we should act toward them… or how we should act in the unfortunate circumstance that we become them.
Sometimes in a society that claims law and order, we prosecute and persecute the innocent. It happens. Some people are criminals in name only, victims of circumstance, willful injustice, or perpetrators of crimes relative to a time period or region that has yet to evolve.
Sometimes we prosecute the repentant and salvageable. Some people know what they have done, are sorry for more than getting caught, and seek to live a life making amends to themselves and others, whether freed from incarceration or not.
Sometimes we force the flesh to pay penance for something the mind won’t acknowledge. There’s an abundance of unapologetic, nescient souls willing to ignore their own wreckage while scoffing at the plight of another.
I’m writing to you about this because I don’t know who will give you guidance on this subject otherwise. The world is full of crime and criminals. Some criminals will be men or women you’ve never met outside of a mugshot staring back at you on the nightly newscast. Some will be your colleagues. Some your friends. Some your family.
I need you to know that if someone has been branded a criminal, by the courts, or society- it’s not for you to also carry out a sentence of personal condemnation against them, regardless of whether their crime affected you. I understand that judging someone is a natural reactionary instinct, but holding a grudge is a choice. The uphill battle to forgive yourself and others is a most worthy fight.
I also need you to know that if there comes a time when you face punishment, just or otherwise, for anything, big or small, I’ll be there to remind you of your worth.
There’s nothing you could do, and no negative title that you could earn, that would remove my unconditional love for you. That’s easy for me to write, because you’re my sons. It’s easy for me to ask of you, because I’m your father. But what about the rest of the people out there? What are they worth to you at their best, or at their worst? I’m asking you to see yourself in them. To plead and hope for them in the event they display ignorance, and to accept an apology in the event they show contrition. I’m asking you to be like Jesus on the worst day of his life. I know it sounds like a lot. It IS a lot. But to paraphrase Elbert Hubbard, I’d rather my sons have a big burden and a strong back than a weak back and a caddy to carry life’s luggage.