Dismas: The Good Thief

In God’s cosmic plan he takes time for one more life in even in his death. Two criminals are crucified next to Jesus. The gospel of Luke describes one as the penitent thief. From the biblically narrative that’s all we know. The apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus assigns the thieves the names of Dismas and Gestas. Biblical scholars have suggested that as Barabbas was originally scheduled to be crucified with them that they may have been part of an insurrectionist group. According to tradition, Dismas whose name means “sunset” was the penitent criminal who hung next to Jesus. Chapter 10 of the gospel of Nicodemus reads as follows:


“And Pilate, after sentence, ordered a title to be written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin letters, according to what the Jews said: This is the King of the Jews. And one of the robbers who were hanged, by name Gestas, said to Him: If you are the Christ, free yourself and us. And Dismas answering, rebuked him, saying: Do you not even fear God, who art in this condemnation? For we justly and deservedly have received those things which we endure; but He has done no evil. And he kept saying to Jesus: Remember me, Lord, in your kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Truly I say unto you, that today shall you be with me in paradise.”[1]

So what can we say about Dismas if that was his name? Perhaps his life was one of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He started off on the wrong side of the tracks. He got in with the wrong crowd. His was a life that forced him to make some tough choices that led to a life of crime. But above all that there is one thing we don’t need to assume about him. This criminal accepts himself for who he is and Jesus for who he is. His is a life of sin that leads him to a moment where he encounters the crucified God. It’s a life of decisions that leads to a justified punishment for which he dies. Death itself isn’t as scary as dying if your at peace with your eternal destiny. But imagine facing death for one whose life has been characterized as destructive, criminal or even murderous. You’d either be resigned or wide eyed and out of your mind as you faced down your future. All we hear in the gospel is a small prayer. “Remember me in your Kingdom Jesus.” Here at the moment human history changes in the place skull there is no baptism. No come and see discipleship. There is just peace to a man who has not known peace. Even in death, Jesus gives a man who has nothing to offer eternal life. Here they hung together suffering a similar fate, Dismas reminds us that we are all criminal with regard to our sin. Christ calls us crucify our agendas, selfish and evil desires with him. In that sense humanity gets to choose which thief we really are, the impenitent or the penitent. Then the moment human history changes is also our moment when our individual history changes. Regardless of what we’ve done, whether we have been in incarceration for our entire lives, we were a screw up, or whatever our lot at the end of our life, when we think its over and God won’t take us back because we’ve simply racked up too many offenses, He takes us. And He does it without a caveat.

[1] Gospel of Nicodemus, Chapter 10