It has been said that the three crosses on Calvary on Good Friday represented Rebellion, Repentance, and Redemption in the forms of Gestas, Dismas and, of course, Our Lord. In a real sense, each of these crosses represents a step in our spiritual and eternal journey.
Tradition gives the name Gestas to the so-called bad or impenitent thief. It is said that he suffered physically as did the other thief, but his inner disposition was far worse. He suffered without humility, faith, hope, or charity. Until his last breath, Gestas refused to accept responsibility for his wrongs, and to seek God’s forgiveness. Even in his own pathetic state, he has the audacity to demand proof of Christ’s power. Even as he is down, he refuses to reach for his only salvation, the Lord. Even as he fumbles at the dust of this world’s false promises, he continues to grasp for it as if it held the solution to his problems. Facing eternal judgment, he still scrapes for the favor of this world when that is not only useless to him, but would not save him anyway.
Do we not all find ourselves in this state of rebellion every time we sin? Do we not hang in the crosses of our falls, sometimes refusing to even accept our responsibility in them, or quick to blame others for our mess? Because we are weak and imperfect, we all play Gestas from time to time. Our hope and prayer is that we are not caught playing him when the final curtain is drawn.
Tradition gives the name Dismas to the so-called good or penitent thief. He suffered just as much physically as the bad thief, but there the comparison ends, for the disposition of his soul was so much better with eternally beneficial results. He was humble, full of faith, hopeful of Our Lord’s mercy, and charitable in his manner even as he hung on the cross. Dismas represents the pull that our love of God, however imperfect, draws us toward our Creator even when shame, guilt, hopelessness. and pride stand in the way.
We all fall, for that is the way of our imperfect humanity. The question is what will we do when we fall. Will we rebel like Gestas and shake our fist at God asking why and warning why He better get us out of this mess or else. Or else? Or else what? In our stubborn arrogance, we may pretend that God must answer to us on our terms. Such an obnoxious response from sinful and imperfect creatures as we are is truly the height of absurdity, yet we practice such heights every day. Hopefully, like Dismas, we will throw ourselves before God’s infinite mercy, trusting in His love for us. Hopefully, like Dismas, we will realize that He is truly our only hope in our present mess. Ultimately, it will be that disgust with sinfulness and zero tolerance for being apart from God that will send us crawling back to God like the prodigal son. True repentance will be based on our love of God and intolerance of the very thought of being apart from Him. False repentance, however, will be based on our own self-preservation without a humble willingness to drop our pride.
Once we pass by rebellion and repentance, we can aspire to the redemption of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. The best instances of such redemption will come from the most stubborn, rebellious sinners who, through the grace of God and their own gnawing sorry, feel a deep contrition for their wrong and directly seek God’s forgiveness.
This is why there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner who returns than 99 righteous who had no need to repent ( Luke 15:7). It is because we all play the lost sheep from time to time. We all fall and lose our way during this difficult journey toward our eternal home. It is a great victory for heaven when one of us is found, for that is the reason Christ came to this earth. In a sense, redemption is all about flipping this world’s scripts of how things are supposed to go. Those who are lost are those who cling to this world’s standards and values and refuse to let go of them in favor of the true light that guides sinners back to the fold.
The three crosses that Friday morning would seem similar to an observer from a distance. However, as that observer came close to the scene, he would have realized that there was more differences than similarities between these three. Two deserved what they received, but only one was humble enough to admit it. In that scene we learn that we should seek God at all times, especially when everything seems to be falling around us. Three wooden crosses on a hill, but one brought the salvation of mankind and the other two clear options for us to follow. Do we humbly seek forgiveness or do we rebelliously and resentfully demand assistance without so much as admitting any sin on our own part? The choice of cross is up to each of us. What we get out of our suffering and trials is up to each of us as well. Divine Mercy waits for our decision, and our disposition, if we can only reach for it with humble and contrite hearts.