Pastor John Kerr
Theme: “An Evening with Those Who Knew Jesus: Dysmas”
Text: Luke 23:39-43 Date: April 1, 2020
Pastor Kerr: In my monologue today, I will play the part of the unknown thief who was crucified with Jesus. Ancient traditions have named him Dysmas (or Dismas) also known as the Grateful Thief, Good Thief or the Penitent Thief. Here is his story.
As pastor mentioned my name is Dysmas. I understand that there is a congregation of your Evangelical Lutheran Church in Americalocated behind the walls of the South Dakota State Prison in Sioux Falls called St. Dysmas of South Dakota. They conduct worship services and a program of reentry and reintegration for citizens ofpenitentiary as they transition back into society.
I became a first class thief early in my life as a teenager. I learned how to slip up on people quickly without warning. Adults taught me how to find the secret hiding places of rich people’s wealth. I discovered how to drive them to their knees, pleading for their lives. I became an expert robber. I found that stealing was a lot easier than earning money as a farmer or shopkeeper. I wanted to have nice things like others had which they probably didn’t get honestly. My life was wild, cruel and bloody. Eventually it caught up with me. Let me tell you how it happened.
A friend and I attacked a rich man who was travelling alone on the road to Jericho. We found that he carried many jewels, silver and gold. After beating him, we left him near death. A few months later, I was in need of money. I heard of a wealthy merchant who was staying at a nearby inn who wanted to buy various valuable gems. I took two of my large rubies and went to the man to see how much he would give me for them. As I laid them on the table, he said he recognized them. He said that he was traveling in the area,had been beaten, robbed and left to die. Another traveler found him, bound up his wounds and put him up in an inn. After his recovery he arranged this plot that I fell into. His servants jumped me, the Roman soldiers were called and I was arrested and hauled off to prison, waiting several weeks for a trial.
A month or so before my arrest, I was up north near the town of Capernaum and heard a strange Galilean preacher from the regionnamed Jesus. There was a crowd of people around this house and inside was Jesus teaching. I walked among the people outside who couldn’t get inside and was noticing a few possible victims and picking up several purses left unattended on the ground. Gradually I worked my way into the house. I hadn’t heard many rabbis before, but this man was different. His words seemed directed at me. He said, “A thief comes only to steal and destroy; but I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”
I recall he told stories too. One was about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One night one was missing. Securing the ninety-nine, he went into the wilderness and darkness to hunt for that lost sheep and bring it back to the flock.
Another story he told was about a son who went to his father and asked for his share of the family inheritance. His dad surprisingly gave it to him. The son went off, spent it, wasted it and eventually sank into poverty and destruction. He came to his senses and decided to go back to the safety of his home. This rabbi said that his dad waited and watched every day for his son to come home. One day he saw him coming down the road, ran to meet him, threw his arms around him, kissed him and welcomed him home with a huge party. It almost seemed as if this rabbi was saying to me that I was in a far country, wasting my life and there was hope for me. But I left that house, ignored what
my conscience was trying to tell me and went on my way,frightening, threatening and robbing vulnerable people.
While I was sitting in that Roman dungeon, I had lots of time to think. I recalled some of the things I heard that rabbi Jesus say and the stories he told. He said, “I have come to seek and to save those who are lost.” “What shall it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your life”? I just wanted to live like respectable, successful people. If only I could have heard more from Jesus, maybe he could have helped me. If only I had listened to what he and my parents and teachers taught me, but sadly I didn’t.
The day of my trial finally came. I was convicted and sentenced to die. The soldiers took me and beat me with whips. They laid a heavy cross on my shoulder for the trip to a place called Golgotha, a place of skulls. On the trip to the execution hill, I had two companions. I saw that one of them was the rabbi Jesus. I couldn’t believe it. What kind of crime did he commit that he deserved death?
I had no chance to talk with him on the way to the hill of skulls. The crowds along the way were jeering and mocking us, spitting on us and shouting obscenities at us. He carried his cross like a man. After they nailed him to his cross and lifted it into place, I heard him say, “Father, forgive them.” Forgive them? I couldn’t believe he said that. They nailed a sign above his head that said something about a king. I don’t know if he was a king, but he didn’t seem to be an ordinary person. No ordinary person could do what he did or say what he said. He was a special person.
The other thief that was crucified with us began to mock and curse Jesus. “If you’re a king, why don’t your men come and get you down and save us as well?” I said with what little breath I had left, “Why don’t you shut up? We deserve what we’re getting, but he doesn’t. Just keep quiet!” Then I turned my head toward Jesus and said, “Please remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And I’m sure I heard him say weakly, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
It’s hard to explain how I felt after I heard those words. Was there something more? This wasn’t the end? I felt reassured, unafraid, at peace. I didn’t understand that word paradise. You use words like “streets of gold,” “pearly gates,” “heaven.” But I did understand “you will be with me.” I would be with him.
Permit me to say this. You know the story of his life and his teachings. You know about the love of God seen in Jesus. You have stories of God and the heroes of your Old Testament and you have the stories of the New Testament. I had none of that except for my brief contact with Jesus.
I regret that I didn’t take time to serve others as Jesus served others or to live a life of love and compassion as he and others did. I missed out on living the life Jesus and the saints through the centuries and those saints in this church have modeled for you.
I wasted years. I caused pain and sorrow to my parents, family and friends. I robbed them of their hopes and dreams for me. I promised someday I’d change, but someday never came. I was so foolish and selfish. I let so many people down, including my teachers and friends. I could have gotten an honest job, but I didn’t. I could have made something of my life to make my parents and teachers proud, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to admit I was a failure. I didn’t want others to tell me what to do, even though I knew they were right. All of those years of doing good I could have had, but I lost. Gone forever.
A long time ago an ancient wise man wrote, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years draw near and you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” That’s the story of my life. Take that lesson from one who learned it too late.