The Good Thief

(Homily for Palm Sunday, Cycle C)

Bottom line: By meditating on the example of the good thief, we can overcome bitterness - and grow in humility.

Welcome to Holy Week! We have just listened to St. Luke's account of Jesus' suffering and death. I hope you will take time this week to meditate on our Lord's Passion. One way of doing this is by reading the account slowly and trying to identify with various people: In what way am I like Peter? Or Pilate? Or Mary Magdalene?

As a help to meditating on the Passion, I would like to tell you about a man identified with the good thief. It is a true story and it contains an element of humor.

It happened that a missionary priest was saying Mass in a Peruvian prison. A friend had sent him a couple hundred rosaries. The priest knew that the prison help more than two hundred inmates, but he also knew that some of them were political prisoners. He presumed that because of their communist philosphy they would not want a rosary. After finishing the Mass, the priest asked those who desired a rosary to form a line. One by one he placed rosaries around their necks. The line of prisoners, however, seemed to grow rather than diminish. When he got to the last rosary, ten guys remained. The priest held up the rosary and said, "I am sorry. I do not know what to do."

One of the prisoners said, "Padre, you have to give that rosary to me."

"Why?" The priest asked.

"Look, Father, I am thief. I admit it. That is why I am here." Then he glanced toward those arrested for insurrection and said: "But I am not like these political guys. I am an honest thief!"

Well, even the "political guys" laughed and the priest placed the rosary over his head. He smiled, revealing his crooked teeth, then took the crucifix of the rosary in his hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it.

One of the two men crucified with Jesus was also an "honest thief." He was brave enough to confess who he was. If we were honest, we would also admit we had taken things that do not belong to us. You know, it is not just the one who steals money or shoplifts who is a thief. The person who has sex apart from marriage is taking something that does not belong to him. Even if you call it "living together" it is still stealing. The same with the husband who spends all his time with buddies; he is robbing his wife and children. The person whose motto is "shop till I drop" and who never thinks about the needy is stealing from the poor. I could multiply examples until everyone here, including the one speaking to you, recognizes he is a thief.

This is not a question of a "guilt trip." It's a simple matter of saying to Jesus who we really are. The second criminal refused to do that. All his life he had practiced "self-reliance." Now he had one final opportunity to put aside that false self, to rely instead on God. But he chose to mock Jesus. Perhaps he thought, "no one has a right to judge me." He didn't realize the only just judge hung next to him.

It's possible to be so convinced of own rightness that we lose everything. The first step requires courage and honesty to face who we are. A good companion for us this Holy Week is the honest thief. The Church recognizes "the good thief" as a saint - Saint Dismas. Like him, we appeal to Jesus, "Remember me." (Lk 23:42)

With those words on our lips, we will make it to Easter Sunday. Imagine what it would be like to hear: "today you will be with me in paradise." No more struggles, no more tears, but forever with Jesus in the great Communion of Saints.

If we say to Jesus, "remember me," we will have the final victory. As a reminder of that victory, I encourage you to take home your blessed palm branch. It symbolizes Christ's triumph. Place it behind the crucifix in your bedroom or living room. It will remind you of the good thief, who in great suffering also experienced great joy. By meditating on his example, we can overcome bitterness - and grow in humility, even in humor. Saint Dismas, pray for us.


Intercessions for Palm Sunday, Year C (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Palm Sunday Homilies):

2016, Year B: First Things: Jesus Suffering Today
2015, Year B: New Mind and Heart Week 6
2014, Year A: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 6
2013, Year C: Strengthen Your Brothers
2012, Year B: A Loud Cry
2011, Year A: The Blood of Martyrs and of Jesus
2010, Year C: The Good Thief
2009, Year B: God's Justice
2008, Year A: Your Will Be Done
2007, Year C: What Do We Have To Offer God?
2006, Year B: Body and Blood
2005, Year A: A Week to Remember
2004, Year C: The Passion of the Christ
2003, Year B: He Breathed His Last
2002, Year A: Human Guilt & Divine Mercy
2001, Year C: An Honest Thief
2000, Year B: Why This Waste?
1999, Year A: His Blood Be Upon Us
1998, Year C: The First Letter of God's Alphabet

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