Sermon: Good Friday – “Thief”

Christ and the Good Thief (c. 1566) by Tiziano Vecellio (Titian) (c. 1490-1576)

According to legend, his name is Dismas.  He and his family lived in the barren land between Israel and Egypt and at a very young age he contracted leprosy.  One day, a man and a woman with a baby boy were fleeing Israel and passed through that region.  They were tired and hungry and in need of shelter and it was Dismas’ mother who took them in.  She fed them and even provided water to bathe the baby.  After the bath, Dismas also took a bath in the same water and by doing so, was cured of his leprosy.

Another legend, taking place in that same barren land between Egypt and Israel tells of how a mother and father with their young baby were fleeing Israel and encountered two thieves, Dismas and Gestas.  At first, they both were determined to rob the family, but something turned in Dismas’ heart and he instead bribed Gestas not to rob them.

Either or possibly even both these events (or none of the above) had an effect on Dismas, but not enough of an effect for him to change his ways, so in the end, he and Gestas found themselves crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem alongside a man whom many believed to be the Messiah, Jesus.  Perhaps it was because of one of those earlier encounters with Jesus that caused Dismas’ heart to turn once more toward Jesus.  Perhaps something in him, since he was a boy, had also been longing for a Messiah, whatever the case, at that moment, like so many others before him, Dismas understood that this Jesus was the only one who could save him, so he asked Jesus to remember him: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

At the time, to be remembered was the best most could hope for.  They had not heard about the Kingdom of God.  They did not understand the resurrection.  The only way to experience eternal life was to be remembered by others following your death, but who was going to remember a thief.  No one.  A thief was no more worth remembering than yesterday’s garbage.  Yet this thief with his death imminent, wanted just one person to remember him: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”  But Jesus is not in the business of simply remembering people.  Jesus redeems, atones, and makes all things new.  Jesus gives eternal life to those who call on him, even if the time is 11:59 p.m., so Jesus said to Dismas, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen commented, Dismas “was a thief to the end and he even stole heaven!”

St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus’ throne on this earth was his cross, therefore, like Dismas, let us come boldly before that throne, but instead of asking Jesus to remember us, let us ask him to grant us entry into his paradise that we might have eternal life with him.  Whether you are a saint or sinner, if you believe and call on him, he will not deny you entry.

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