In my reading this week, I came upon this beautiful passage by Richard John Neuhaus. In it, Neuhaus reflects on the thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross. While both of them slowly begin the process of Roman execution, one of the thieves (Dysmas, as legend names him) turns to Jesus and asks to be remembered by Jesus. Neuhaus writes,
“According to [Dorothy] Sayers, Dysmas turned toward the light, but he did not believe in the light. His ‘Lord, remember me’ was not an act of faith but an act of charity. It is the kind of thing one might say to someone who imagines he is Napoleon. But then, says Sayers, with Jesus’ unexpected answer there is a moment of illumination, of insight; it is not unlike an act of faith. Of Dysmas she writes: ‘He is confused between the crucified man, of whose weakness it would be selfish to demand one added agony, and the eternal Christ, of whose strength he is half aware, and with those sufferings he seems to be mysteriously identified, so that in some strange way each is bearing the pain of the other.’
Certainly Jesus was bearing the pain of Dysmas, and of the other thief, and of all humanity half aware and unaware. ‘Today turn to him. At times we turn to him with little faith, at times with a mix of faith. Jesus is not fastidious about the quality of faith. He takes what he can get, so to speak, and gives immeasurably more than he receives. He takes our faith more seriously than we do and makes of it more than we ever could. His response to our faith is greater than our faith.
Once a father came to Jesus asking him to heal his sick child. ‘All things are possible to him who believes,’ Jesus said. The father cried out, ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’ And so cry we all. At another time Jesus said if you have faith, no greater than a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Here on Golgotha, the place of death and devastation. Dysmas has faith smaller than a mustard seed, and it blossoms into a tree of eternal life, a tree of paradise. Christ’s response to our faith is ever so much greater than our faith. Give him an opening; almost any opening, and he opens life to wonder beyond measure.”
Death on a Friday Afternoon page 37-38