Was the ‘good thief’ in the Gospels really good?

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Msgr. Charles PopeQuestion: I have a question about the so-called good thief. Both Matthew and Luke say that he, like the bad thief and other bystanders who mocked Our Lord on the cross, verbally rebuked and abused Our Lord. So how is one to reconcile that state of mind with the commonly held view of him being the good thief?

Thomas Kamala, via email

Answer: All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified between two robbers (or criminals). Matthew and Mark record both robbers as reviling (some versions use “abusing”) Jesus. But Luke adds a further detail that the others lack. And so we see that Matthew records, “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him…” (Mt  27:44, English Standard Version). Mark concurs, “Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (Mk  15:32, ESV).

Luke however adds the detail that the “good” thief seems to have repented of this. The text says one thief eventually rebuked the other, saying: “‘Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'” (Lk  23:39-43).

Some hold that Luke’s account flat-out contradicts Matthew and Mark. But such a strong conclusion is not necessary. Luke may simply be focusing on the end of the story wherein the good thief, whom tradition names “Dismas,” repented of his earlier wrath (recorded by Matthew and Mark). Accepting his punishment and that he is guilty, he also acknowledges that Jesus is innocent. As such, it is a beautiful story of conversion and repentance.

Mystery of the Trinity

Question: I am curious about how the names Father and Son in the Trinity relate to the reality of the first two Persons. How is the Son begotten, and how can this relate to the biological relationship of fatherhood as humans experience it?

Name withheld

Answer: In saying that Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is begotten we are asserting that he is not a creature, but is of the same divine nature as the Father. 

In human terms, a man may make something out of wood, steel or clay, but what is made does not share his nature. But when a man fathers a child, that child shares his human nature. We do not say he makes a child; rather we say that the child is begotten by him. Thus Jesus, who is begotten (not made) shares fully in the one divine nature of the Father. 

How the Son is begotten is different from human generation, which involves sexual intimacy. But in the Trinity, this is not the case, since the divine nature is pure spirit, without a body and therefore without a sex. Rather, in the divine begetting, the Father considers or thinks of himself. Since he is God, his consideration of himself is perfect and comprehensive. And, since it is the nature of God to exist, his consideration of himself has existence, and is his Son, who is the perfect image and likeness of the Father. Thus Jesus can say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). 

We also say that the Lord Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father. That is to say: there never was a time when the Father was alone and without the Son. The Father has always begotten the Son and the Son is always begotten by the Father. The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from them both. 

As for the titles Father and Son, the Father is rightly called Father since he eternally begets the Son and is the principium deitatis, the source in the Trinity. The Son is eternally begotten by the Father and is rightly called the Son in this respect. The Third Person is rightly called the Holy Spirit since he proceeds, or spirates, from them both.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.