The second of Jesus’ Seven Last Words is called, for reasons that are easy to discern, The Word of Salvation. Tradition hands on to us that the name of the repentant thief whom Jesus forgives and promises entry into paradise is Dismas. Hence, St. Dismas is the patron saint of prisoners, especially those who, like Dismas, who are imprisoned justly, that is, for crimes they committed. In the first word, Jesus addressed our need to forgive those who act in egregiously unjust ways towards us, even those who seek to take our very lives. In the Word of Salvation, he is confronted by a guilty man, a man condemned justly according to the law, the kind of person that it is very hard to forgive. The beauty of St. Dismas is that he recognizes in Jesus, the man who has done nothing wrong and who is condemned to death unjustly, as his Savior.
I don’t think there can be any doubt that Dismas’ conversion, which brings to the fore the dire straits he is in, took place as he heard the Lord utter the challenging words on which we just reflected: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) It is easy to imagine Dismas thinking, if Christ willing forgives the ignorant and unrepentant, how much more will he look with mercy on the knowingly guilty and repentant, the one who expresses his sorrow and who recognizes salvation when he sees it? It is only for this that we revere Dismas, a guilty and convicted criminal, likely a seditionist, as a saint.
Dismas knows he is going to die and is resigned to this. The other thief is not. He, too, wants a Savior. What else can he mean when he says, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us”? (Luke 23:39) This is the kind of Savior we not only very often want, but, like the unrepentant thief, the kind of Savior we very often demand!
My friends, on this Good Friday let’s recognize that we are in the same position as St. Dismas, condemned to death justly because of our sins. We acknowledge this each time we receive Christ in communion by saying the words spoken by the Roman centurion to Jesus, which accurately express Dismas’ desire: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” (Luke 7:6-10; Missale Romanum) Implied in this, our confession, is Dismas’ plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)