Politics, Moderate



Kicking off the Easter Season Revisiting the Message of 'The Two Thieves'

Jessica Johnson on

With the observance of Easter upon us, many people often take this time to enjoy treasured films that commemorate this season such as "The Passion of the Christ" and "Son of God." "The Ten Commandments," although it specifically focuses on the Old Testament story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, has traditionally been shown on television during Easter weekend, and I loved watching it as a kid with my mother and grandmother. One short drama that I recommend viewing again this year in addition to these classics is "The Two Thieves," which was previously titled "Once We Were Slaves." Originally released in 2014 and directed by Dallas Jenkins, this short film focuses on the crucifixion of Jesus from the perspectives of the two Jewish thieves who were sentenced to die alongside Him. By providing a reimagined viewpoint on the events of Good Friday, "The Two Thieves" is similar to the 2016 film "Risen," which followed a Roman military tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) as he has a life-changing encounter with Jesus after the Lord arose from the grave. Clavius' doubts about Jesus being the Son of God are comparable to the thief Demas (Stelio Savante), whose unbelief was fueled by the crushing economic oppression of his people from the Roman Empire.

The primary themes of "The Two Thieves," the spiritual deliverance from doubt and the dangers of self-righteousness, are pertinent to the role of the church and how people view followers of Christ today. Self-righteousness was the fault and downfall of the thief Benyamin (Christopher Maleki), who had been a rabbinical student and, as he often repeated in the film, "an upstanding citizen." The main flaw of Benyamin is that he was not in ministry to sincerely serve and instruct others in the ways of God. Benyamin wanted to be a rabbi for social prestige and recognition from his peers. The storyline is that he and Demas had been childhood friends, but Demas had taken a wayward path in life mainly due to feeling abandoned by his father. Demas had strayed from the temple and felt that God had forsaken him.

Benyamin failed to acknowledge the pride in his own heart and would often chide Demas for being vile and reckless. It was his wounded pride that caused Benyamin to ask Demas for help in avenging the loss of his fiancee to a Roman soldier, the crime that landed them in a Roman prison. As they await their fate with Barabbas (Richard Cotovsky), the murderer the Jews eventually chose to be released over Jesus, Benyamin has the audacity to blame Demas for their harrowing lot and tries to convince the Roman guards that his rabbinical connections could vouch for his reputation. Even as they are dying by crucifixion with Jesus, Benyamin continues to claim in agony that he led a perfect life, and he vehemently chides Jesus for showing mercy to Demas.

The crucifixion scene is especially moving because Jesus, poignantly portrayed by Jonathan Roumie, shows Demas how God has compassion on the unjust as well as the just. Jesus isn't out for spiteful revenge against His enemies, which is why He takes on the sin of the entire world. It is at this moment that Demas believes. This scene is significant for the church in our present times when considering how we often hear about the decline of religion in America. I truly believe that one of the reasons for this decrease is that many who are genuinely seeking a relationship with God oftentimes run into church goers like Benyamin, Christians who have fallen into complacency and harshly judge others for their shortcomings. Someone with a Benyamin-like spirit who is wrapped up in selfish ministerial ambition and boasting about good works cannot witness to a person whose soul is in distress. The tragedy in this is that those like Demas who need our love, support and encouragement get overlooked. There is a Demas on our job who may be battling mental health disorders, a Demas in our family who may feel neglected, or a Demas in our community who may be suffering from emotional or physical abuse.


We need to be able to reach a Demas just as Jesus did on the cross. Demas wasn't broken beyond remedy. That's the powerful Easter message delivered by "The Two Thieves."


Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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