The Good Thief by Judy Knotts
Guest Post by Judy Knotts
He mentioned in passing that he had stolen more than 100 guns. This was a subplot in the midst of a discussion about bible verses. Then Tomas asked me to read a piece he had written, which I did. What amazed me at first was his incredible handwriting. It was actually stylized printing similar to what a trained architect would use to solidify ideas and intrigue others. It was a full page of sentences artfully arranged on unlined paper. There was flow, originality, and passion in the writing.
I sensed that this man needed to be heard, so I listened. His work was basically a commentary on certain Bible verses. Maybe this was my path into the subplot —stolen guns. So I asked him, “How did you get so familiar with the Bible?” And he said, “I spent four years in a maximum security prison cell where I ate, slept, showered, and relieved myself. While I was there, I read the bible 6 times front to back, Genesis through Revelation.”
When Tomas asked me, “What is your favorite chapter in the bible?” I stumbled, not used to this probing question and mumbled: “I’m not sure.” Clearly, I was out of my realm with him biblically and had not even thought of a favorite chapter. In truth, I had never read the entire book. He kindly glossed over my sketchy response and told me his favorite was Ecclesiastes.
Saying this, he went to his backpack and dug out his bible, carefully protected in a plastic bag to keep it dry and pointed out favorite verses. His bible was not leather bound or gold embossed, nor did it have any artist’s renderings, but he had found it, it was now his and precious to him. Reading through the good book 6 times in prison changed this man it seems.
Tomas must have battled discrimination in the past and even now, for he is not one who radiates a presence. He has missing teeth, a mild stutter and his appearance is a mite seedy. Although hesitant in manner, Tomas is determined in spirit and presses on. His past both weighs him down and lifts him up.
Persistent criminal behavior and repeated robberies of firearms were products of who knows what, but Tomas admits to drug and alcohol abuse. When we talked he had gone 22 days without using drugs and 17 days without smoking cigarettes. He knows that he can get drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes if he weakens, but he ignores what is around him and focuses on the bible and his writing.
We read in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that two criminals were crucified alongside Christ. According to biblical scholars, these two thieves must have done something beyond petty stealing which usually resulted in being stoned to death. Being crucified was reserved for the most heinous of crimes. Along with those present at the cruxification of Christ, these two robbers hurled insults at Jesus as they hung on either side of him.
Then we read a startling account in Luke. “One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him, saying, and ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23 39:43
I wonder, is Tomas today’s good thief? He and the good thief in the bible, who was nameless, but traditionally is referred to as Dismas by some Christians, both had a change of heart. They repented and the mercy of God prevailed.
Our choices then and now are simple: can we admit our guilt, can we accept punishment, and can we ask for forgiveness. If we can, love might save us.
Two thieves, outcasts, and outlaws— Dismas saved by Christ himself. Tomas saved by a holy book.
How strangely wonderful.