Thursday, March 24, 2011
March 25 -- Feast of St. Dismas
Oh, where to start with this one! How about this? At the moment of Jesus' death on the cross, his body (according to the Russian Orthodox tradition) writhes in agony. He pulls the crossbar crooked -- the left points down and the right points up. This signals the salvation of the thief on his right and the condemnation of the thief on his left.
Let's go back to the Gospel of Luke. To quote chapter 23, verses 39 to 43:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Next, we must consider the Gospel of Nicodemus, which names the two thieves Dysmas and Gestas. Dysmas is apparently derived from the Greek dysme, meaning dying -- a funny name for the one who went to live in paradise that very day. I'm not sure what Gestas means.
Now on to the Arabic Infancy Gospel, which identifies the thieves as Titus and Dumachus. Titus is the good one on the right side, and is identified with the thief who resisted robbing Joseph and Mary on their flight to Egypt. Full circle for him.
Finally, let's consider all the crucifixes that don't have a Living Jesus on them. He hangs his head to the right as a convention, giving the nod to Saint Dismas the faithful sinner who is saved by his faith alone.
Bonus Fact: The painting of Jesus and Dismas shown in the thumbnail was done by Nikolai Ge, a nineteenth century Russian artist.
Posted by Tom Major at 8:18 PM