The Bystanders: Two Thieves

By Chad Hershberger

This Holy Week and next week, as we observe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I invite you to join me in being mindful of God’s gifts. We’ll have a series of blog posts that look at the eyewitnesses of the Crucifixion and how the events of this week still have meaning to us today.

In Luke’s gospel (23:39-43), we encounter the two criminals that hung next to Jesus on the cross. They were thieves, one of whom derided Jesus, telling him to save himself. The other rebuked him and asked Jesus for mercy. He wanted Jesus to remember him when he went to God’s kingdom. Jesus said that he would be with him in Paradise.

The one who asked to be in the kingdom is often called the penitent thief. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church and is commemorated on March 25. Catholics chose that day because it is also their Feast of the Annunciation. Ancient tradition says that Jesus and the penitent thief were crucified and died exactly on the anniversary of Christ’s incarnation. The penitent thief is given the name Dismas in the Gospel of Nicodemus. In Catholicism, he is known as Saint Dismas.

The other thief is often called the impenitent thief. He’s the one who taunts Jesus. In some old writings, he is given the name Gestas.

Have you felt like you were one of these thieves? Maybe you’ve felt shame or fear or despair. All you can do is look to Jesus, who is right beside you. On your darkest days, we can remember that Christ’s crucifixion was for us and he’s always with us. He walks beside us. What we are feeling will not stay with us forever.

As we look at these thieves, who were part of the Crucifixion story, we can be reminded of God’s gift of eternal life. Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” We can hold hope that things will get better.