I’d like to spend a few minutes today talking about “riff raff.” This is the perfect day for it. March 25, St. Dismas Day.
Never heard of it?
Our Roman Catholic friends tell us: St. Dismas is the man known as the "Good Thief" who was crucified with Christ alongside another criminal on Calvary. He is described in Luke's Gospel (29: 39-43) as repenting from his sins and asks Jesus to "remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus replied to him, "I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Enemies of the state were often crucified by the ancient Romans. Another favorite target for this humiliating form of torture was “scum of the earth,” perhaps better known as “riff raff.” And that’s how these other two guys could best be described…the pair who flanked Jesus on the hill of Calvary.
“Riff raff” strikes a familiar chord with me, because from the very beginning, a common perception was that our agency was showing compassion to that same segment of society. Now, to be clear, those who know me and know about HFP, also realize that we don’t consider any human being to be “riff raff.” But, I know the question remains hidden in the minds of many: “Why spend time, money and resources helping that kind of person?”
Pastor Nate may have said it best, this morning, in his sermon about the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Those who worked for only one hour received the same pay as those who had labored all day, even though that was the agreed-upon salary. And it didn’t set well with the all-day workers.
Nate’s response: Compassion is greater than fairness!
On this St. Dismas Day, a legitimate question for the theologians might be why this low-life criminal, who didn’t study the scriptures and didn’t spend his life being nice to people, receives the same kind of eternal reward that we do? And a legitimate question for those of us in prisoner advocacy might be why those persons behind bars deserve the same kindness and compassion as needy people on the outside?
If our staff and volunteers are followers of that itinerant preacher on the cross who welcomed St. Dismas into Paradise, the answer is the same: Compassion is greater than fairness.
In conclusion, this message from a Roman Catholic publication:
On this St. Dismas Day – March 25 – special blessings to all inmates, families, staff, volunteers – everyone involved in prison life and ministry one way or the other. Read & reflect on Luke 23: 39-43, the story of our patron the good thief.
From now on, let's not ignore St. Dismas Day.
Or the beautiful message that it generates.