Good Thief/Bad Thief

Well I’ll be dipped–the chief butler and baker were types (foreshadowings) of the two thieves crucified next to Jesus!

I need to unpack that…

I’ve run across enough eye-opening references to the Douay-Rheims that I finally decided that I need to read that translation from cover to cover. I’m working through the Haydock Bible (with commentary by the Fathers of the Early Church), and I’ve just gotten to the story of Joseph.

He was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by his master’s wife & thrown into prison. While there, he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler & baker (Genesis 40). The butler dreamed that a vine with three branches budded, flowered and produced grapes, which he squeezed and served to Pharaoh. The baker dreamed that birds were eating baked goods out of three baskets on his head. Joseph explained that within three days, the butler would be returned to his post, while the baker would be beheaded and hung on a tree. Joseph further asked the butler to remember him, and to ask Pharaoh for his release.

It was the commentary that tipped me off to the parallels with Jesus’ crucifixion. Joseph’s life parallels Jesus’–I knew that already. Both were favored sons, hated by their own, sold for silver (20 vs. 30 pieces), falsely accused, “savior of the world” (the literal meaning of the name Pharaoh gave Joseph in Genesis 41:45), and so on. But I hadn’t picked up on the other characters in the story…

Two convicts join Joseph, even as two thieves shared Golgotha with Jesus. To one, Joseph predicts restoration, even as Jesus said to the “good thief”, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To the other Joseph predicts death, that he will be hung on a tree. The second thief next to Jesus blasphemed Him (Luke 23:39) and his legs were broken so that he would die and could be removed from the cross before the Sabbath.

Bad and good the feast [Eucharist] are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.

Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
-Laud, O Zion, sequence for Corpus Christi,
by St. Thomas Aquinas

Two prisoners dreamed and asked Joseph for an interpretation. One was rescued, the other executed. Two thieves hung beside Jesus on the Calvary. One went straight to Heaven. The other did not. What mattered was what was going on in their hearts (the same is true of me).

The three days point to the Paschal mystery, to Jesus’ three days in the tomb. Even the grapes and baked goods fit, foreshadowing the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, through which He perpetuates His one Sacrifice throughout time and space. One could even make a case for the birds being symbolic, as birds were used in the art of the Early Church (especially in the catacombs) to symbolize Christians. Birds eating bread symbolize Christians consuming the Host.

The plea for remembrance is there too. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The good thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon Your reign” (Luke 23:42), and Joseph said to the chief butler, “remember me, when it shall be well with thee, and do me this kindness: put Pharaoh in mind to take me out of the prison” (Genesis 40:14). Although the butler forgot for two years, Pharaoh’s dream finally jogged his memory and he got Joseph out of prison. Jesus didn’t forget. It was His sacrifice that opened the gates of Heaven to the man who hung beside Him.

That same sacrifice is presented to me every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  I can be the chief butler, the good thief…or I can be the chief baker, the blaspheming thief.

Jesus, remember me…

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