Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
– Matthew 27:38, KJV
Maybe the added humiliation that came with the crucifixion of Jesus was to die with thieves. Dimas, to the right of Jesus, repented for his sins, while Gestas did not. You would not read their names in the Bible, much less see a crucifix bearing the body of Dimas, for everyone to know the value of forgiveness and repentance. Perhaps we’ll never see that; the Church will never glorify the deeds of a thief whose sole claim to remembrance is to be crucified alongside Jesus.
How do you ask for forgiveness when you’re hanging from a cross? When you’re bleeding from your hands and feet, and you’re belaboring every breath as you bake underneath the hot afternoon Sun? The jeers and taunts, I guess, were directed more to Jesus – the star of the spectacle – while these two thieves, who would have otherwise been flogged and tortured, were just accessories to the show of that one man who was supposed to die.
Yet we, who aren’t nailed to crosses or dying from hemorrhage or exposure, cannot demonstrate the power to forgive. Perhaps that is divine, a deed we expect the most from Jesus Christ. Yet Dimas was dying; humbling himself to ask for forgiveness from a man hanging on a cross. Surely Dimas did not believe in the divinity and the supremacy of Christ as much as anyone down the hills of Golgotha. Surely he must have been like Gestas, who with his last dying breath would be one with the people and mock – condemn – Jesus for being just like him: a man hanging from a cross.
Dimas was going to meet God in paradise. In that one instant that he begged sincerely for forgiveness, Jesus – in His infinite Mercy – absolved a common thief, someone who was props for His own execution, from all of his sins.
We all bear wounds, I guess, from the torture we inflict upon ourselves on a daily basis. We all live because the course of life is to die, and yet forgiveness and mercy is so out of touch for many of us. It’s fairly easy to let things pass, to take forgiveness for granted, and perhaps not to ask for mercy at all. We will all be forgiven, perhaps in sacrament, when the wounds – the cicatrices – we inflict upon ourselves become too much to bear.
Yet unlike Dimas we are not tortured to repentance; we can repent and ask for forgiveness anytime, and yet we are not thieves. We are, in many ways, better individuals than Dimas ever was. Surely we can find it deep in our hearts to forgive, to seek mercy, to stop our own suffering… to do the one thing expected of us since childhood, and that’s to be more like Jesus.
Yet the irony of it is that the expectations we have for ourselves are much lower than the nobility of Jesus. The cruel truth that we decent individuals – we who never filched, we who never stole – have to follow the deeds of a common nameless thief.
I hate long weekends for the reflection that’s in it. I cannot follow the example of Dimas, for it’s extremely difficult to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness, for a promise that’s never guaranteed anyway. I guess I’ll keep hanging on my cross, bleeding for the rest of the years left to me. Atonement, perhaps, is a promise left for your last breath if you live a life less than that of Jesus, but more like that of either thief dying by His side.