We call him “Saint Dismas.” He is the “Good Thief” who hung on the cross next to Jesus. The other guy, for your information, is called “Gestas.” These two criminals are a lesson to us, in the midst of this “Passion Sunday,” of how we are to approach Jesus, who for our sake accepted death, even death on a cross. This story is our story. As Christ offers His supreme sacrifice, in the persons of these two criminals, you and I are present. But which one am I?
The first criminal hanging there turns and sees Jesus with him. Another man on a cross, dying like himself, he reviles Jesus out of his own suffering. “Look at me, ‘Messiah’,” he seems to mock. “Why do I have to suffer like this – especially if you’re here? Give us some sort of miracle: Save yourself and us, while you’re at it!”
This man’s cry is so familiar, so real, so human. It is the cry of all who suffer and cannot find any meaning in that suffering. It is the cry of a world that expects things from God without any effort from themselves. It is the spiritual hunger of a generation that has been fed on platitudes and prosperity gospels. God is my personal genie; and if He won’t come and respond when I call, then He is not God.
The second man did not do this. His suffering is the same; he is subject to the same condemnation as the first man, and as Jesus. And in that realization, he finds his meaning and his salvation. Even in the midst of supreme suffering, the “Good Thief” knows where to turn for sense in this horrible world in which he has found himself. There, in the Cross – not his own, but in Jesus’ – he sees something more than the absurdity of life and the meaninglessness of suffering and death. He sees his Savior. And because of that vision, he knows that this moment of pain – of agony – of suffering – is part of a supreme moment for not just himself but for all.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
That is the Christian response to suffering. It is what gives a terminally ill person the power to live and die with true dignity as a child of God, united to Jesus’ own sacrifice. It is what allows a young person to stand up for what is true and right when everyone else says otherwise. It is what saves the world from the absurdity of death and ushers in the promise of eternal life.
In short, it is what our faith is all about: Jesus, taking everything human – even our ultimate demise – and transforming it into something miraculous.
This week, look for those ordinary things that seem to weigh you down or depress you; and know that Jesus has taken on even that, and transformed it for God – and for you. And thank St. Dismas for giving us that example to know that such a miracle is possible.