Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 1
What does Scripture say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we preach—for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For the Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction
If you attended Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday, you had a preview of our Lenten homily series. We are spending Lent with St. Dismas. For those who do not know, Dismas was the “good thief,” crucified alongside Jesus. In Greek, the name Dismas, means sunset or death. There are many stores about St. Dismas, but they are not our concern. Rather, we will delve into Dismas as a person, much like ourselves. He took many wrong turns in his life, much like we do. Perhaps, none of our turns was as extreme as Dismas’ turns; yet we have much in common with him when we turn from God.
Dismas’ turns were dark. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus noted Dismas was a brigand – a thief and abuser. He is much like the robbers the poor man in the story of the Good Samaritan encountered. Brigands lived in the hills, watching for and robbing travelers. They left their victims beaten, robbed, stripped, and helpless along highways and byways. Unless helped, those robbed typically died.
Other works note Dismas as a terrorist or as a fratricidal murderer. As I said, his turns were dark. What was most important however was his last-minute turn to Jesus. Jesus,remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.
Who was this Dismas, really? What brought him to the life he led? None of us can really answer that question. We can speculate. Was he a man, perhaps abused or neglected by his family? Was his family somehow killed by violence or disease, leaving him to fend for himself? Was he a person of little skill who could not find work? Hopelessness can drive a man or woman to extremes. As in our very neighborhood, young men and women join gangs because of hopelessness.
The question we must ask ourselves in our inner Lenten examinations is: ‘Why did I turn from God when I did? What temptation won?’ Again, perhaps not as darkly as Dismas, but nonetheless, away from God. What hopelessness drew me into sin? How might I repent/turn back and in doing so show unity with God’s heart by relieving another person’s hopelessness? Disciples ask these questions and use them to grow into images of Jesus.