“Late in the day the 12 came to Jesus and said, 'Send the crowd away so they can go to the villages and find food and lodging...'
Jesus replied, 'You give them something to eat'.
'We only have 5 loaves and two fish..."
Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down on the grass in groups of about fifty each.' The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the loaves and the fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to give to the people. They all ate and were satisfied!" Luke 9:10-17
This coming Sunday, Pastor Scott will share Jesus' words offered to the criminals on the crosses beside his. "Today you will be with me in paradise". All week I have been pondering this promise. I look forward to hearing how Pastor Scott will help the promise of life with Jesus after death, come alive for us in ways which encourage our living and our faith sharing. Today though, I have been thinking about how desperately we need a pinch of paradise in this life. We are frazzled, anxious about change, weary because of illness, concerned for our friends who are undergoing surgery and treatment, grieving the loss of loved ones, and just plain tired.
It occurred to me that we miss some of the blessing if we assume that "Paradise" can only mean heaven after death. Jesus' promise begins by saying "Today you will be with me." Because he and the criminal are dying, the promise extends into death and resurrection however, that promise did not begin with the last breath but with the first word of faith from the criminal. As Jesus said to another who claimed his as Lord, "Everlasting life is that you know me, and my Father who sent me." Paradise is defined by the presence of God. Literally translated, the Paradise Jesus was speaking of from the cross is "the Kings garden". In Jesus time, this referred to a gorgeous oasis tucked away in the center of the palace grounds where the Kings gardener would prepare a lavish sanctuary for the King and his guests to enjoy.
When I hear Jesus' promise to the criminal in this context I begin to imagine, and get a bit excited, that paradise can be savored, at least in part, in this life. Paradise can be experienced in the moments when we allow God to fill us with his presence, the moments we claim for rest and prayer, the moments we notice the beauty of a spring miracle pushing through the ground. In the passage above the disciples see what is lacking in their situation. They are worried that their supplies are low and they can’t keep up with all the needs around them. They think they need to hurry and do something. Jesus asks them to have the people sit down on the grass and then Jesus feeds them. Jesus invites the people to "be" in his presence and be provided for by his grace. The end result is that all are SATISFIED! This to me is paradise today!
This Spring, I encourage you to claim the gift that a relationship with the living God offers you. Sit down and invite God's presence to create an oasis, walk outside and notice the signs of new life, just be and invite God to provide you the needs of your spirit. This is as close to paradise as we will come in this life.