Passion of Christ

A Thief’s Remarkable Confession

March 30, 2015

Dismas the Good Thief Orthodox icon 16th centuryOften called the “Good Thief” and traditionally known as “Dismas” in the Latin Church, this man is billed as having stolen heaven in his last hour, living up to his profession. It was no sleight of hand, though, no con job that moved the heart of Jesus. As I’ve meditated on the Passion this year, Dismas has occupied my thoughts. How was it that he alone of the two criminals crucified with Christ that day confessed Jesus as king?

While Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:32) write that both criminals reviled Jesus, Luke tells us something else, a something that reveals an outpouring of God’s grace at the last minute that freed a man chained by evil deeds to see and say the truth in full repentance for a life gone terribly bad. In contrast,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23: 39)

This thief had no idea what being the Christ meant, or he wouldn’t have tried to incite Jesus to free him so he could escape accountability and go on about his life of crime and ruin. Jesus didn’t come to help us circumvent the laws of His Father and to get us unrepentant ones off scot free from the penalties of our sins.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

How did the Good Thief know that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Only if this man were Jewish and knew the law well could he have known that Jesus was a victim of a set up. Perhaps he had mingled with the crowds following Jesus, snatching a purse here and there while noting what Jesus was doing. If so, he could not have failed to see the vast numbers of people Jesus cured from all sorts of diseases and paralyses. Maybe he even saw Jesus cast out demons and raise the dead. He knew Jesus was a good man and no criminal. Perhaps he flirted with the idea of giving up his predatory occupation and following Christ instead, but, since he ended up condemned, he apparently lacked the will to shake off the shackles of his greed. Yet God gave him the extraordinary grace among the crowd of vicious blasphemers to declare from the heights of his cross that Jesus was innocent while he and his fellow criminal were surely guilty.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Dismas claimed in full faith in front of everyone there that day that Jesus is king with all the powers a king possesses. Among them is to forgive the repentant subject who throws himself on the mercy of the sovereign. Knowing that Jesus was dying and that he himself would die, against all worldly logic that makes no room for what cannot be perceived by the senses, Dismas professed that Christ’s kingdom is real, not of this world, but is of eternity just as He said, and that Jesus prevails over all. Simply astonishing and only possible through the grace of God. A man dying in horrible pain after living a dissolute life seizes eternal life through the eyes of full-blown faith at the last minute.

The same grace God gave Dismas in extremis is open to every sinner any time who honestly admits his trespasses and repents of them. We don’t go to Confession solely because we don’t want to go to hell for our mortal sins, although it can be one motivation. We confess our sins under the power of the grace of God in order to humble ourselves and renew true submission to His will. That grace is free and open to everyone. We have only ourselves to blame if we cut ourselves off from it as the other thief did.

Praise God for what He did for the Good Thief and for what He does every time we make a good confession. Praise God for the grace of humility and repentance and for giving us His beloved Son to teach and lead us along the narrow path. Praise God when we see through the eyes of faith the transcendent world we were created for. Just as Dismas was, we are the primary beneficiaries of His terrible death on the cross. Let us not squander our inheritance.

Image: The Good Theif, Russian Orthodox icon, 16th century

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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Monday, March 30th, 2015 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 3 Comments


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