As a wide-eyed, freckled-faced boy squirming on a church pew in the 1960s, always in trouble, forever playing the miscreant’s angles in his head, there was one figure from The New Testament I heavily banked on for salvation.
Dismas, if you don’t know him, or Saint Dismas as he is known in the Roman Catholic Church, was a thief, one of two common criminals crucified alongside Jesus of Nazareth. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to other saints being discussed at St. Thomas More on East 89th Street in those years, but on Dismas I zeroed in.
Dismas, you see, was my get-out-of-jail-free card. That’s how I saw him anyhow. I’m ashamed to admit it now.
The man crucified to Jesus’s left, known as the “Impenitent Thief,” mocked Jesus from the cross beside him, according to scripture, dismissively saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.”
Dismas, the “Good Thief” on Jesus’s right, rebuked the man, saying: “Have you no fear of God? . . . We have been condemned justly . . . but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus, according to the Gospel, replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The story of the Good Thief is a powerful story of redemption — and a cornerstone of Christian faith. It teaches those who believe that it’s never too late to ask forgiveness. An organization called the Dismas Project sends thousands of letters each year to death row inmates reminding them of just that.
I mention Dismas, whose medallion I wear around my neck, because the topic of contrition and forgiveness keeps coming up in the news and in social media feeds. This week it concerns comedian Kathy Griffin who made a big splash holding a bloody facsimile of President Donald Trump’s head in a photograph, jihadi style. (No, you can’t make this up.) Griffin appropriately apologized. Then the real discussion began: Was she genuinely sorry or just trying to save her career? Should she go to jail?
It’ll go on for days.
We go through this silly cycle every time a public figure drops a premeditated or haphazard outrage into the public sphere — with Billy Bush, Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert (didn’t apologize), Samantha Bee, A CNN News crew joking about Trump’s plane crashing, Snoop Dogg (no apology) . . . and on and on.
We serve from the sidelines as the transgressor’s judge, jury and psychologist. It’s the new American sport.
But no figure consistently attracts more unfair ridicule and scorn from the peanut gallery than Huma Abedin, the long-suffering wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Social media provocateurs gleefully humiliate Abedin as if tearing wings from a fly. There’s a special kind of cruelty to how she is treated.
After news broke Tuesday that Abedin was allowing Weiner back into their home following his conviction for sex messaging an underage girl, social media predictably exploded: “Hillary’s top aide invites a sex offender into her home,” one twitterer jubilantly announced on his feed. “EXCLUSIVE: Just when you thought Huma had enough, she invited her admitted sex offender hubby back home again” read another. Donald Trump Jr. was among the first to “like” that one. Then began the conspiracy theories about why she would do such a thing.
Abedin’s crime, other than being Hillary Clinton’s confidante, is the audacity to show mercy in a world intoxicated by schadenfreude and rage. It’s more than some can bear. Abedin seems to be willing to take the deeply flawed and broken father of her child back into her home in the hope that redemption somehow lies ahead for him. She’s doing so fully aware of the ridicule that will follow, not just from Clinton haters but from feminists, too, who view as anathema standing by any wayward man. One doesn’t often see that kind of strength today.
All I can say is I wish I were as good a Christian as Huma Abedin is a Muslim. Her mercy is to be admired.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.