The day of the thieves

Dr.Sebastian Paul

On Good Friday we remember the supreme sacrifice of a righteous man who by his crucifixion paid for the sins of all mankind. It is also a day to remember three condemned criminals who play key roles in the Passion narrative. Barabbas, a bandit condemned to death for insurrection and murder, was set free following the uproar of a riotous mob who had gathered in the courtyard of the Roman prefect to witness the most vicious trial in history. Jesus, carrying his cross, was sent to Mount Calvary for crucifixion along with two unnamed thieves – one penitent and the other impertinent. In apocryphal writings the impertinent thief is given the name Gestas, which first appeared in the Gospel of Nicodemus, while his companion is called Dismas. The thief on the right side of Jesus was clever enough to steal the key to Paradise by his last minute appeal to Jesus to remember him when Jesus arrives in his kingdom. He is remembered as the penitent thief or the Good Thief who is traditionally known in Catholicism as Saint Dismas. We can”t say with certainty that the impudent Gestas on the left had missed his passage to heaven. Repentance can come any moment and in any form. Even Barabbas, as memorably portrayed by Anthony Quinn, became an admirer and follower of Jesus. According to legend Pilate also converted to Christianity before his death during the time of Caligula. Then why should one alone for his ostensible imperitence on the cross should go to hell? He was also suffering the horrible pain and disgrace on the cross. As a co-sufferer of the prolonged agony he also might have been invited by Jesus to his kingdom. One who dies with Jesus will definitely rise with him. That is the promise of the Gospel.

Thieves have always existed in all cultures, and the penalties for stealing have always been
harsh. Ten Commandments of Moses proscribe stealing. Even petty theft (for as little as a loaf of bread) was punishable by death in the 18 th and 19 th century England. Crucifixion was a method of capital punishment till it was abolished by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Neither divine command nor harsh punishment deters a thief. Jean Valjean, the thief in Victor Hugo”s Les Miserables, had to spend nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister”s starving son.

On release he was again caught for stealing the Bishop”s silverware but the Bishop saves him by telling a lie to the police. The penitent thief was reformed. Every thief has a day and if a day is to be dedicated for thieves, Good Friday is the day for them.