the third thief; after easter 3

18 Apr

the third thief ; after easter 3

Luke 23:39-43 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Corinthians 9:15 New International Version (NIV)

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift

Jesus is the third thief among these two confessed thieves. He steals our lives from back from the evil one. He is giving his earthly life to cover us, to lavish us as our prodigal, extravagant Saviour with his indescribable gift: eternal life in his kingdom.

It is an unimaginable, indescribable gift. It is His life for ours. A glorious gift and theft.

Bilbo Baggins is a type of this giving, thieving Christ.

Bilbo Baggins, the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien, is a hobbit. A usually quiet, sedate creature, he is caught up in a wild adventure along with the Wizard Gandalf and a troop of Dwarves to seek out some treasure. To prove himself as a burglar to the disbelieving Dwarves, Bilbo makes a bold move: he will steal treasure from Smaug the sleeping dragon. Here Tolkien describes the theft:

“Then Bilbo fled [with the cup]. But the dragon did not wake – not yet – but shifted into other dreams of greed and violence, lying there in his stolen hall while the little hobbit toiled back up the long tunnel. His heart was beating and a more fevered shaking was in his legs than when he was going down, but still he clutched the cup, and his chief thought was: “I’ve done it! This will show them. ‘More like a grocer than a burglar’ indeed! Well, we’ll hear no more of that.” ‘(12.17)

Bilbo steals for the approval of dwarves. This is what motivates him and drives him to perform. It is what Bilbo serves and risks his life for: he worships the idol of being a people/dwarf pleaser. In doing so he becomes a thief.

Dwarves, on the other hand, worship gold, treasure and earthly wealth. They risk their lives (and some will die on Lonely mountain by tale’s end) for these riches.

Smaug, the menacing and sleeping dragon, has still another master— greed: ‘Dragons may not have much real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule, especially after longpossession; and Smaug was no exception. He had passed from an uneasy dream (in which a warrior, altogether insignificant in size but provided with a bitter sword and great courage, figured most unpleasantly) to a doze, and from a doze to wide waking.’ (12.20)

Smaug is a hoarder, a counter. He knows the price and whereabouts of all his possessions. This is what he lives for: power in long possession. He can’t use the wealth. But wealth is his power source and what he worships.

Each of J.R.R. Tolkien’s creations seek life through power: power of approval from others; the power of riches and the power of possession. None can be generous as they are controlled by power. The Dwarf King Thorin and the Dragon Smaug die in their desires. Only Bilbo lives. How?

Much later in his life Bilbo gives away his treasured possession—the Ring of Power- to his orphaned nephew Frodo. It is only by giving earthly power away can Bilbo sail into the eternal life in the lands of the elves at the narrative’s close. So…

What are we to do in light of God’s indescribable gift?

Give up power, or any desire for power, as Christ our Gift lived. Again, let’s look to the apostle Paul.

In Philippians 2, The Message version, Paul writes,

‘if you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life…love each other …Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.’

Put yourself aside. Become like the Giver: love, give and extend helping generous hands. This is the only way to a fully loved life; to eternal life, to real power.

Give all away. All ways.

Note: a portion of the above material appeared in the Stewardship blog under Charles Osewalt.

2 Responses to “the third thief; after easter 3”

  1. Melanie T April 19, 2018 at 6:38 pm #

    Charlie, your comment on giving away power made me think about Bilbo being ready to give away his power and wealth within the Hobbit.(Spoilers ahead for an +80 year old book) In chapter 16, Bilbo sneaks away and gives the Arkenstone of Thrain to Bard, in order for him to use in negotiating with Thorin & co. He was willing to give up his share of the treasure (and put himself at considerable risk) in order to halt the fighting between the groups. Just another point to Bilbo being willing to give away power.

    And, only tangentially related, if you are in the market for a new podcast, I am listening to a great podcast called The Prancing Pony Podcast. It is going through the Hobbit right now, and they went through the Silmarillion already. It’s a good listen. They are right about the area where you quoted above.

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