The lesson of the Good Thief

Source: District of Asia

Two men are crucified beside Jesus: one is saved and the other is damned. One teaches you never to despair of your salvation, the other never to presume of your salvation.

Tradition has it that the Good Thief was called Dismas. St. Anselm tells his story, not as authentic, but as an accredited legend. In the story of St. Anselm, Dismas lived in a forest at the time of his escape to Egypt. He was the son of a chief of bandits, who lived in gangs there robbing travellers. The Holy Family appears. When he sees the man, the woman and the child, Dismas prepares to attack them but, having approached them, he is seized by a tender and affectionate respect; he then offers hospitality to the travellers, gives them what was necessary, full of caresses to the child. Mary thanked him and promised him a great reward.

Jesus Christ, dying, kept his Mother's promise. Dismas was compensated on the cross for his conduct in the forest.

Whatever one thinks of the legend told by Saint Anselm, the Good Thief is one of the most singular figures in the history of the Saints. Thief and murderer, he is canonized by the lips of Jesus Christ. He is placed to the right of the Son: from there, he represents all the elect.

Calvary represents the Last Judgment. Therefore the Good Thief is the image of the predestined people. A worker of the last hour, he enjoys the magnificence of the One who invokes and adores. He recognizes the Crucified One, his neighbor, as the Judge of the living and the dead. And the Crucified One answers him.

According to Father Ventura, the two Thieves gave men two capital lessons. The Good Thief, laden with crimes and armed only with very recent repentance, told mankind, "Never despair”.

The evil thief, in apparently the same conditions, dies next to Jesus and says to mankind: "Do not trust your presumption".

Based on Ernest Hello, Physiognomy of Saints, Fògola Editore, Turin 1977, p. 113