Gestas and Dismas

by Dr. Matt Friedeman

In church tradition the two thieves on the right and left of Jesus had names–Gestas and Dismas. Gestas looked over at Jesus and said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” In the accounts in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, it wasn’t just Gestas who was scornful…both the thieves join the crowd in mocking Jesus.

But in that moment Dismas rebuked him and asked, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The part of the Church who knows him as Dismas points to four lessons learned from his time on the cross.

  • Dismas directed his own sword at the side of Jesus–-a sword of love and repentance–that opened the heart of Jesus in mercy and forgiveness even before the centurion’s spear tore it asunder.
  • Dismas’ face was closer to that of Jesus in His last agony, to offer Him a word of comfort, closer even than that of His own mother’s or any of his disciples. “Face” as a word in the Old Testament (panim) is usually translated “presence”–nothing was thought to be more precious.
  • Dismas knew well how to pray (He looked at Jesus and talked!–that is what prayer is). The Church wanted to learn from Dismas how to pray simply to gain pardon and the grace of perseverance.
  • The Church then taught that Dismas was now close to Jesus in Heaven. This is where we all want to be, in the presence of Jesus. Now and for all eternity.

The holy quality of these days approaching Good Friday rest on our ability to learn from Dismas, it would seem. And that we might be delivered from the spirit of the lawbreaker known as Gestas.

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