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Good Thief, Bad Thief

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By Marc Massery (Apr 11, 2019)
View the readings for this Sunday.

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April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
•Is 50:4-7
•Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24.
•Phil 2:6-11
•Lk 22:14—23:56


After Christ is betrayed and abandoned by some of His closest followers, after He's scourged, crowned with thorns, stripped of his garments, and nailed to the Cross, He dies to the sound of his enemies and executioners ridiculing Him. Indeed, Christ's enemies do a whole lot of talking at the foot of the Cross, at least, according to the Passion narrative we read this Sunday.

The Roman centurions jeer at Him saying, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself" (Luke 23:37). Rulers sneer at him saying, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God" (Luke 23:35).

As if that weren't enough, a criminal, known as "the bad thief," who is being crucified next to Christ, adds to the ridicule saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us" (Luke 23:37).

Though a few of Jesus' closest companions, including His mother and the Apostle John, remain with Him until the end, they stay silent throughout the Crucifixion.

Good Thief
However, there is one man who speaks up in the Lord's defense. He, too, is being crucified with Christ. Tradition refers to him as "Dismas," but he's also known as "the good thief." After the bad thief mocks Christ, this good thief sticks up for Him, saying, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal" (Luke 23:40-41).

Saint Faustina speaks of the good thief in her Diary:

See what grace and reflection made out of the greatest criminal. He who is dying has much love: "Remember me when You are in paradise." Heartfelt repentance immediately transforms the soul. (387-388)

The good thief admits his sin, accepts his suffering, and thus, opens his heart to the transformative power of Christ. He doesn't ask Jesus to take him down from the cross. He knows that the life he lived on earth deserves death. Still, not having given up hope in the life to come, he says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). And though the good thief only asks to be remembered, Jesus responds, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43).

Bad Thief
The bad thief, on the other hand, doesn't acknowledge his guilt or the fact that he deserves death. He wants to be taken down from the cross so that he can go on living life as he had been, as a criminal. Therefore, he doesn't receive Paradise.

But the bad thief isn't the only one who deserves death. Every one of us has sinned and thus, deserves eternal separation from God. But in His mercy, God became man to begin to set things right. We just have to follow in the footsteps of the good thief, acknowledge our sinfulness, and turn to Jesus.

Sometimes, like the bad thief, we wish to be taken down from our cross. Frustrated with what we're suffering, like the bad thief, we even question Jesus' divinity, wondering "Why doesn't He just remove this suffering!?" But in this life, being taken down from the cross is not the answer. Jesus endured it. The good thief endured it. So, we too need to endure it, knowing that we deserve worse. And if we persevere, we can place our hope in something better than merely being freed from suffering. We can look forward to receiving the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven in our hearts here on earth and being with God forever in Paradise.

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