As we approach Holy Week, it’s fitting that we examine the last minute conversion of the penitent thief, St. Dismas.

Image by Geralt at Pixabay

As we approach Holy Week and honor the holy day of Good Friday, even if it’s virtual, the Passion of Jesus will be read at Masses across the globe!

While it’s easy to forget against the ugliest evil committed, we must always remember Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves.

Catholic tradition (little “t”) refers to the penitent thief as St. Dismas, while the unrepentant thief has no name.

These two individuals are very important figures at the death of Jesus Christ. But through his act of repentance, St. Dismas left a lasting legacy for us to follow!

The Biblical Narrative

Matthew’s account tells us the two thieves reviled Jesus (27:44). In addition, we know that they were at Jesus’ left and right side (38).

On the other hand, Luke’s perspective of the event (23:39–43) provides greater detail of the events that happened while the three men were being tortured.

While one thief decided to mock Jesus, it’s St. Dismas that humbly acknowledged his sin and accepts Jesus’ promise of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Always Two Paths

A reoccurring theme in the Bible is the two-fold path of righteousness vs spiritual death.

God in the Old Testament presented an option of life and death for Israel as they entered the Promised Land (Deu. 30:15–18).

Psalms 1 contrasted the drastic difference between the righteous man vs the ungodly person.

Jesus showed the two ways of entering into life through the narrow gate or the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13–14).

Moreover, the Apostolic age early church document, The Didache, describes the two ways of life and destruction by saying, “There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways.

In the moments of the crucifixion, the two thieves represented this dual pathway. One willingly followed the pathway to eternal life, while the other thief possibly died by committing the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, persistence in unbelief.

Justification of a Sinner

Many see the repentant thief as an example of being strictly justified by faith alone. On the contrary, St. Dismas demonstrated extraordinary love by his acts of mercy.

Particularly, he 1) Rebuked or admonished the sinner on the cross for his mockery against Jesus 2) Instructed a sinner on the necessity of why Christ was blameless 3) Bore his wrongs 4) Received wise counsel from Jesus.

All of these things conveyed the amazing power of helping his neighbor see the error of his ways. His faith demonstrated a remarkable action. Far from being justified by faith alone, he lovingly acted in a manner that revealed great spiritual concern for his neighbor.

St. James declared this type of faith as, “Completed by works (2: 22).” It’s this faith that has verifiable fruit, with the aid of God, that is profitable for salvation.

Final Thoughts

What amazes me most is that Jesus Christ was selfless while on the cross.

He thought of his mother and John, but here he still considered the spiritual well-being of others in his suffering.

That speaks to me.

No matter the condition, someone can benefit from words that, “Build others up according to their needs (Ephesians 4:29).

Moreover, the theological importance of the verse reveals that Jesus extends himself to those that are contrite at heart. Mercy is available to those that want it.

Thankfully, Jesus has an abundant overflow to supply