What You Didn’t Know About The Good Thief

St. Dismas: The Good Thief.
St. Dismas: The Good Thief.

The good thief, as he is commonly referred, is an unnamed character who appears in all four Gospels—though it’s his interaction with our Lord in the Gospel of Luke that’s made him famous.

Though he’s never been officially canonized by the Church, he is believed to be a saint by virtue of Christ’s words, ““Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” So I suppose you could say he was canonized preemptively by the Lord himself!

He is traditionally referred to as St. Dismas and his feast day is March 25th.

What You May Not Have Known

But here’s something you may not have known about the good thief.

When we cross-reference the account of the crucifixion in the Gospels we can infer something very interesting about St. Disamas. Namely, that before repenting and asking to be saved, he too reviled Christ along with the crowd and the other thief.

Let’s take a look at the Scriptures.

Two Robbers

All four Gospels tell of two criminals (no more) who were crucified alongside of Christ:

Then were crucified with him two thieves: one on the right hand, and one on the left.” – Matthew 27:38

And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.” – Mark 15:27

“There were also two other malefactors led with him to be put to death. . . . they crucified him there; and the robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. – Luke 23:32-33

“The soldiers therefore came; and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”- John 19:32-33

Reviling Jesus

Two of the Gospels accounts recount Jesus being abused by the these criminals. In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

“And they that passed by, blasphemed him, wagging their heads, And saying: Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it: save thy own self: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, mocking, said: He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him now deliver him if he will have him; for he said: I am the Son of God.

And the selfsame thing the thieves also, that were crucified with him, reproached him with” –  (27:39-44).

In Mark we read that the chief priests and scribes were mocking him, saying, “Let Christ the king of Israel come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him (15:32).

The Thief Becomes The “Good Thief”

So far we have seen that there were two criminals crucified on either side of Christ and that at one point both were abusing him. It is in Luke’s gospel that we see one of the thieves rebuke the other and request to be saved.

And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise” – (23 39:43).

From this we can conclude that at some point after St. Dismas “reviled him,” and before he asked Jesus to remember him in his Kingdom, he repented. What beautiful humility St. Dismus displayed, and what astounding mercy Jesus gave.

A Prayer to Saint Dismas

Glorious Saint Dismas, you alone of all the great Penitent Saints were directly canonized by Christ Himself; you were assured of a place in Heaven with Him “this day” because of the sincere confession of your sins to Him in the tribunal of Calvary and your true sorrow for them as you hung beside Him in that open confessional.

You who by the direct sword thrust of your love and repentance did open the Heart of Jesus in mercy and forgiveness even before the centurion’s spear tore it asunder; you whose face was closer to that of Jesus in His last agony, to offer Him a word of comfort, closer even than that of His Beloved Mother, Mary; you who knew so well how to pray, teach me the words to say to Him to gain pardon and the grace of perseverance; and you who are so close to Him now in Heaven, as you were during His last moments on earth, pray to Him for me that I shall never again desert Him, but that at the close of my life I may hear from Him the words He addressed to you: “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”

Amen.[1]

12 thoughts on “What You Didn’t Know About The Good Thief

  1. Thanks for this article Matt!

    I have a question though, more of a thought……what would have made St Dismas convert in such a manner? I mean it seems like a complete 360 degree flip in attitude! Would there be any information on that?

  2. I think it is a bit presumptuous to immediately conclude that Saint Dysmas mocked Christ simply from the evidence given. . As we know each Gospel writer emphasizes different aspects and themes in the life of Christ. It is possible that the other Gospel writers simply did not focus on the good thief as each may have chose to highlight different parts of the passion. Luke’s Gospel choose to focus on a theme of mercy and the saving power of the crucifixion and as such develops the story of Saint Dysmas. It is St. Augustine who said that Scripture is known to speak generally at times. He says that this is one of those times in which Matthew and Mark speak generally in referencing of those crucifed with Him in that they, generally speaking, were mocking Him. It is more than possible the other Gospel writers gave a general treatment of this aspect of the crucifixion and simply used they in the “general” sense of the “criminals” and others who mocked Christ.

    Another example of this is that the prayer the Jesus said asking for forgiveness for those who are actively crucifying him does not appear in every Gospel narrative. We cannot say definitively that Jesus did not say this since it doesn’t appear in each Gospel, anymore than we can say ” the good thief mocked Jesus” because some Gospel writers gave a general treatment to those of mocked Christ or that Dysmas clearly mocked Christ simply because the criminals crucified with Christ are referred to collectively in some Gospels.

    While Dysmas mocking Christ before his conversion is not out of the realm of possibility, I do not feel the article above can definitively say he did so simply because a general statement about those crucified with Christ is a made in some Gospels.

    Also the question presents itself in why would Luke leave out that Dysmas also mocked Christ. Did he simply wish to make Dysmas sound better? Would Luke want to include that Dysmas mocked Christ to show just how far he came from in his conversion??

    I don’t mean to be argumentative, I just feel the evidence provided cannot definitively say “did you know Dysmas mocked Christ”.

    I enjoy your site. Thank you for your articles!!

    Ps: the only Catholic Church to be named after Saint Dysmas is in Kingston Ontairo. Kingston is the headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada and has several prisons nearby. Saint Dysmas being the patron saint of criminals, the Church allowed by Rome to be named “the Church of the Good Thief.”

    1. Thanks for your comments Marc,

      There’s a difference between something being left out in some Gospels and not others (such as Christ forgiving his executioners), and something being taught explicitly. Here’s what we know: 1) There were two thieves executed beside Christ. Agreed? If not, re-read the Scripture I cited above. 2) At one point both thieves mocked Christ Agreed? (If you want to deny that then you’ll need to deny Scripture which relays this fact explicitly, again, see Scripture cited above). 3) One thief acknowledges Christ as Lord and asks to be remembered by him in his Kingdom. Agreed? Then you should agree with me that St. Dismas mocked Christ, repented, and asked to be saved. Let me break it down more simply:

      1. There were two thieves.
      2. Both thieves mocked Christ.
      3. One asked to be saved.

      4. Therefore, since mocking and asking to be saved cannot be done at the same time, the one who asked to be saved must have first repented.

      Not sure how you can (or why you’d want to) get out of that, Marc.

  3. I have a small doubt. I think this has been answered somewhere but I cant find where.

    Jesus said that St Dysmas will be with Jesus in Paradise the same day of crucifixion but we see that Jesus rises again on the third day only. Does that mean he went to paradise first then came back. Or as the apostle’s creed says did he descend to hell?

    1. As the Gates of Heaven we’re not open, Abraham’s Bossom as it’s known in the parable of Lazarus, also known as Paradise is still disconnected from God thus ‘hell’ to free the righteous hat went before Him.

  4. In the bible, there are many instances where the name of someone is not reveled/mention in the gospel within a verse. A good example would be the Road to Emmaus : Luke 24:13-35 “…They stood still, their faces downcast. [18] One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?…”. I have heard many explanation to this but my favorite is that the unnamed person is actually us, each one of us who do the same thing to today to him. Some of us recognize Jesus yet some of us still do not.

  5. In the bible, there are many instances where the name of someone is not reveled/mention in the gospel within a verse. A good example would be the Road to Emmaus : Luke 24:13-35 “…They stood still, their faces downcast. [18] One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?…”. I have heard many explanation to this but my favorite is that the unnamed person is actually us, each one of us who do the same thing to today to him. Some of us recognize Jesus yet some of us still do not.

  6. Hello Matt,

    excuse my ignorance but the sides of Jesus where the good and bad thief were, are they explicitly mentioned who was on His left and who was on His right? Also is it mentioned explicitly which side Jesus’ side was pierced?

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