"Why did Luke include in his gospel this amazing happening on Calvary? I believe it was because this is more than just the story of two thieves. It may even be the most profound story we find in the passion event, a story that has to do with nothing less than the salvation of humanity, with who loses heaven and who wins it. Consider where Luke places Jesus — in the center, between two sinners. These men are not just thieves, but representatives of the entire human race.

"On one side is the person entrenched in his own self, letting all the human sins he has chosen to live by be not simply exposed but also justified by his self-righteous holding onto them.

"But on the other side of Jesus is the person who acknowledges his sins because he now finds himself confronted by utter goodness. In the face of this, his hardness disappears and, seeing how different his life could — and should — have been, he makes a choice. He accepts responsibility for his crimes and, turning to the One he knows to be innocent, the One he recognizes as having a 'kingdom' in paradise, he in effect seeks forgiveness by asking to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom.

"Jesus, who would have every human ever created be forever in his kingdom, doesn't respond with, 'First, you have to be punished.' No, he 'runs wild' with this, and says to the repentant sinner words that have resounded down through the centuries: 'This day — you will be with me in paradise!'

"Paradise begins the moment we realize forgiveness.

"This scene in Luke's gospel is profoundly touching, for it shows the power of forgiveness and highlights its two essential aspects: one must ask, One then gives.

"Also memorable is the sadness in the silence from the other side, the unforgiving thief, permanently lost.

"Here we have the mystery of forgiveness laid out, placed in the center of the universe: between a rejection and a plea — an embrace. It is clearly the most important message Christ came to earth to give us — that there is no entering into his Father's kingdom if one remains hardened and unforgiving. When Jesus told Peter he had to forgive seventy times seven times, it wasn't a numbers game. Jesus was teaching that forgiveness is as intrinsic to life as our breathing. Forgiveness has to be a continuous way of life. Forgiveness has to be always in the present tense, for it is never done.

"Few people, thank God, have to deal with forgiving someone who has murdered a loved one, or a beloved child who is defeated in life and ends his or her pain by committing suicide. But all of us must deal on a regular basis with thoughts about people we feel have hurt us, abandoned us, spoken badly about us, hurt our feelings, damaged our reputations, manipulated, provoked, or just plain annoyed us. They can be parents, relatives, friends, bosses, employees, even strangers.

"But it is not these people we need to forgive so much as our thoughts about them, the angry, unforgiving thoughts that gnaw at our consciousness, burn us, haunt us, won't let us go, because we can't let them go. I have learned that radical forgiveness, asked for and given, seventy times seven times, is the only way out of that prison."