The Two Thieves – Dismas and Gestas
Further to Michael Shackleton’s answer to the question, Was the other thief saved? (September 30) refers, tradition names that man as Gestas.
From tradition we also know a lot more about Dismas, the Good Thief, than the information given us in the Gospel.
His wonderful eleventh-hour conversion and defence of the holy Kingship of Jesus on Calvary merited him the everlasting title ‘The Good’.
It was in the throes of his death agony that this new man was reborn on a cross, and was canonised by the gasps of the heaving voice of our Saviour Himself as he hung from the nails that transfixed him to the cross of our salvation.
From data garnered from common tradition, the Fathers of the Church, and several non-inspired accounts of the gospel story, we know that the first meeting of our Egyptian-born (good) thief and the Holy Family took place in Egypt during the flight of the holy family away from Herod.
Dismas was a very young man then but discerning enough to see, especially in the face of the child Jesus’ mother a holiness and beauty that he dared not profane.
Indeed, it is said that he interceded with his fellow accomplices to give the holy family a safe conduct into Egypt, though he did not respond to grace at this time. Worse still, according to Pope St Gregory the Great, Dismas fell in the later days so low that he was stained with the sin of Cain’s murder of a brother.
At Golgotha, a transformation was won through the intercession of the Woman (Mary), who ponders all things in her heart and never forgets one who has given her Son a cup of cold water. This dying man’s only request from his Lord was but a remembrance in his Kingdom.
We are thankful with the angels for this man, chosen from all eternity to be co-crucified with the Lord and Saviour of all mankind. We rejoice for a man who was the first to be with Christ in Paradise.
We also rejoice that St Dismas encourages and intercedes for all of us who are so frail spiritually, to continue with confidence and hope, on our pilgrim walk.
It is my fervent prayer that the bad thief, whom tradition names Gestas in the 14th-century Catalogue of Saints by Peter de Natalibus, also underwent his purgation, and eventually entered heaven too.