Thomas and Dismas

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 19(year B), September 16, 2012
“sign of the cross”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Mark 8:34-37

“Let us also go, that we may die with him,” said Thomas when Jesus decides to head into Judea to attend to Lazarus’ death. The disciples protest and remind Jesus that the authorities want to stone him.

The Good Thief, Russian Icon, Moscow School, 1580

I love Thomas. I can hear him. “Oh, hell, let’s just go die with him,” he says with utter candor but not without thinking through the implications of his devotion. This moment presses itself into my mind like a dream that won’t dissipate during the day – a dream pressing its images upon me again and again when I’m not looking directly at it. I see the moment in time, the disciples standing at a crossroad of intersecting paths leading to Galilee via Jericho or Samaria or any number of places safer than Judea.

Okay. Let’s take up our crosses and follow the idiot. Well, maybe he didn’t say “idiot.” Then, again, when you live closely with other people and don’t always understand their motives for particular decisions which affect you, calling names under your breath can relieve a little tension. And facing the possibility of crucifixion surely offers some degree of stress.

The other person I thought about this week was Good Thief, known in the Western tradition as Dismas. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” says the thief dying alongside Jesus. Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I have a distinct image of Dismas because of Christian iconography. He holds a cross and is often pictured accompanying Jesus in his descent to the dead, or standing alone at the last judgment.

Dismas takes up his cross after he is already crucified and dying upon it. And the Way opens to him during his impossible suffering.

When I can’t bear looking directly at the cross itself, I look to Dismas and Thomas to help me come as close as I can. They are good companions to me now, just as they have been to other timid souls for two thousand years.

One Response to “Thomas and Dismas”

  1. Deacon Susan, Northern California Says:

    Dismas is revered by many who are incarcerated, and pictures of him are in many institution chapels.

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