It was a day I pledged to remember and observe. And it quietly came and went without a peep, not only from me, but from those in other denominations who place a much higher emphasis on saints than the conservative Dutch.
I’m talking about the Feast of St. Dismas Day. Sometimes observed in the Roman Catholic tradition on March 25.
And just who is St. Dismas, you ask. After all, March is known as the month when we focus on St. Patrick.
Well, Dismas is the name that was given to the penitent thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus at the time of the crucifixion. Of the gospel story tellers, only Dr. Luke relates this part of the story:
“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "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."
I wasn’t even aware that anyone had given him a name until last year, when I heard a powerful message by dynamic preacher Jim Liske, former CEO of Prison Fellowship. And it was that message that prompted me to make a note in my calendar that, regardless of what anyone else does on March 25, I intended to observe the day. And from now on, I’ll still do that. Here’s why.
Well, before explaining my reason, it’s probably wise that I point out, once again, that I am not a theologian. Back in the 50s, God knew what he was doing when he pulled me from Calvin College’s pre-seminary program, and nudged me into radio broadcasting.
But here’s the deal. This is where Jesus put his talk into action. He talked about prisoners in Matthew 25. But he actually put his words into deeds on the day of his crucifixion when he showed us how to demonstrate kindness and compassion to a hardened criminal.
I won’t belabor the point, but this tells me that those who claim to follow Jesus should do more than look at our HFP team and say, “Good for you. We need guys like you!” I think it would be much more like the Master to say, to all of us in prison ministry, “What can we do? How can we help?”
Thanks to St. Dismas for the reminder. Thanks to Jesus for his amazing grace,