Dear friends. We come today to the second Sunday of Easter or what has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We recall with joy the Jubilee year of mercy we marked in 2016 when Pope Francis urged the whole Church to discover once again the message and power of God’s merciful love that is available to all and is the hope for all humankind. In that year, the Pope reminded us that the message of divine mercy is the very heart of the Gospel. He also reminded us what Divine Mercy is – what happens when God’s love encounters human sin, weakness, brokenness and suffering.
In today’s beautiful Gospel passage, we see the power of divine mercy at work and notice the effects it has on those who receive it. It is the story of the disciples huddled in fear in a room. Imagine how they felt – the man and leader in whom they hoped was dead; they had failed him miserably as he predicted; they were afraid that the Romans and Jews would now come after them too. And then something extraordinary happened. Jesus appears to them. He is alive! They are dumbfounded and amazed. But what would his first words to them be? They waited nervously. Imagine what you might say if you stood in Jesus’ place. At worst we might say: ‘Your failed me and abandoned me. I no longer call you my friends. It’s over’. At best we might say: ‘I do not reject you but about last week lads…where were you?’ Instead, Jesus does not bring up the past or confront them with their failures. No less than three times he offers them the gift of his peace: ‘Peace be with you!’ Little wonder they were filled with joy.
Think about this. Jesus is not concerned about how he was wronged. He is concerned for them, the ones he choose, the ones he loved and continued to love. He saw that their greatest need was for peace – a peace that was much deeper than feeling better but a peace that was the fruit of forgiveness, healing and the restoration of hope and faith.
Look at the example of Thomas. When Jesus appeared to the disciples again, his mercy met Thomas’ lack of faith. Notice how Jesus’ mercy does not reprimand him or scold him for his faith not being as it should be. There is none of that. Instead, the divine mercy of Jesus makes room for Thomas’ doubts and meets them respectfully. Because of this encounter, Thomas’ doubts are acknowledged but transformed into a beautiful affirmation of faith – ‘My Lord and my God!’
What hope for us is contained in this story! God’s mercy does not ignore our doubts, our past or our failings but wants to heal and forgive them. God’s mercy doesn’t just forgive us but wants to change us too. As God’s mercy makes room for our imperfections, so too does our experience of mercy make room for others as it expands our hearts in charity as a response to the free gift of God’s merciful love. Notice how the disciples’ experience of divine mercy in today’s Gospel is matched by the first reading where the early Church community embraced social mercy with concern for ‘any members who might be in need’. Receiving mercy makes us more merciful. We are called to show mercy because mercy is shown to us, time and time again.
And so on this beautiful feast of Divine Mercy, we give thanks with awe and wonder for the experience of God’s mercy, shown and offered through Jesus and breathed on us through the Holy Spirit. It is a mercy that makes room for us and challenges us to make room for others. In the concluding words of Pope Francis: ‘Mercy sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with merciful love which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope and above all, integrate. This is the mindset which should prevail in the Church and lead us to open our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society’ (The Joy of Love, 312).
Fr Billy Swan