It occurs to me that there is something unique about the two thieves between whom Christ is said to have been crucified.
There were certainly those who believed in Christ before these thieves, those who believed in him as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophesy, those who believed in him as the promised Messiah who would reign as king over Israel. They chose to believe in a man who would defeat their enemies, who would raise up their nation, who would offer them political and military as well as spiritual salvation.
There were also certainly those who believed in Christ after these thieves, those who believed in him as the originator of a new Messianism, those who believed in him as a Messiah who would inaugurate and rule over a spiritual kingdom. They chose to believe in a man who could pardon their sins, who could raise up a new kind of faith, who could offer salvation to the Jews first but also to the gentiles.
It is only the two thieves, however, who are asked to believe between these two Messianisms, between a triumphal Judaism on one hand and a triumphal Christianity on the other. It is only they who encounter him solely in the moment between, where he appears to have failed in every respect, where he is broken and bleeding and dying. Is it any wonder then, despite two thousand years and more of Christian condemnation, that one of the thieves is recorded as mocking Christ? Mockery was the only logical response to a man who had claimed to be the Messiah and who was dying like a common thief. Such a man deserves only mockery, or perhaps pity, but certainly not belief.
Yet, in this very same moment, in those hours between the Messiah that Christ had been and the Messiah that he would be, in the time when he was nothing more than a common criminal, in the moment when no one claimed him or made any claims on his behalf, the other thief believed. What could account for this? Surely it is the most remarkable act of faith every recorded. This second thief has as little reason to believe as the first. He too has encountered Christ in the moment of his failure, and yet he chooses, against all logic and sense, to believe.
This choice is indefensible. It is either the most faithful or the most foolish choice there has ever been.