The good thief, as he is commonly called, is an unnamed character mentioned in the Gospel of Luke who was crucified alongside Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. He is traditionally referred to as St. Dismas.
Though he has never been formally canonized by the Church, he is believed to be a saint by virtue of Christ’s words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” His feast day is March 25.
When we cross-reference the account of the crucifixion in the Gospels, we can infer something very interesting about St. Dismas: that while on the cross he verbally abused Jesus with the other criminal and the crowd before repenting and asking to be saved.
Let’s take a look at the Scriptures.
All four Gospels tell of two criminals who were crucified alongside Christ:
“Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matt. 27:38).
“And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left” (Mark 15:27).
“Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. . . . There they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left” (Luke 23:32-33).
“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs” (John 19:32-33).
Two of the Gospels recount Jesus being abused by the two criminals:
“[T]hose who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’
“So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, “I am the Son of God.'” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matt. 27:39-44).
“Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (Mark 15:32).
The Thief Becomes The “Good Thief”
So far we have seen that there were two criminals crucified on either side of Christ and that at one point both were abusing him. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we see one of the thieves rebuke the other and request to be saved:
“One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'” (Luke 23 39:43).
From this we can conclude that at some point after St. Dismas “reviled him,” and, before he asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, he repented. What beautiful humility St. Dismus displayed, and what astounding mercy Jesus gave.
A Prayer to Saint Dismas
Glorious St. Dismas, you alone of all the great penitent saints were directly canonized by Christ himself; you were assured of a place in heaven with him “this day” because of the sincere confession of your sins to him in the tribunal of Calvary and your true sorrow for them as you hung beside him in that open confessional.
You who by the direct sword thrust of your love and repentance did open the heart of Jesus in mercy and forgiveness even before the centurion’s spear tore it asunder; you whose face was closer to that of Jesus in his last agony, to offer him a word of comfort, closer even than that of his beloved Mother, Mary; you who knew so well how to pray, teach me the words to say to him to gain pardon and the grace of perseverance; and you who are so close to him now in heaven, as you were during his last moments on earth, pray to him for me that I shall never again desert him, but that at the close of my life I may hear from him the words he addressed to you: “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.”