May 1, 2011 - Divine Mercy Sunday

Today's Readings

We have been celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past week. Today we celebrate one particular aspect of the Resurrection: Divine Mercy. We see divine mercy at work in the appearances of Jesus. First the angel announced his Resurrection, but no one believed. Then he himself appeared to Mary Magdalene. She believed, but no one believed her. Then he appeared to Cleopas and another disciple, perhaps his wife, in Emmaus. Then he appeared to Peter. Then he appeared to a group including nine other apostles.

Only Thomas was left out now. With all these people testifying to the Resurrection, surely he will believe. No. He claims that he will not believe until he puts his fingers in the holes made by the nails and his hand into the side opened by the spear. He does not want to believe in a ghost or a con man. He thinks everyone else might have been fooled, and he is not willing to be fooled along with them.

As a side note, there is someone else left out, someone whom Jesus never appeared to: his mother, Mary. When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”, he meant her above all. She receives every blessing in Scripture, and this is no exception. She first saw Jesus again after she was taken into heaven, decades later, but she believed in the Resurrection before anyone else. She did not even go to the tomb on Easter morning. She knew that no one was there.

It says in the Gospel that one week passed before Jesus appeared again. That must have been an uncomfortable week. Thomas was still sad, still mourning the death of Jesus; everyone else was celebrating the Resurrection and wondering. Perhaps Thomas thought that everyone was playing some elaborate (and not particularly funny) practical joke. Everyone must have seemed crazy. Thomas could not leave in case Jesus appeared again, but it must have been very hard to stay when everyone around him was celebrating what he thought was a mass delusion.

God is merciful. Not only does Jesus appear to Thomas, but he tells him to put his finger in his hands and his hand in his side. Whatever it takes, Jesus is willing to do, but Thomas was wrong. He did not need to touch Jesus to prove to himself the reality of the Resurrection. As soon as he sees Jesus, he falls down and says, “My Lord and my God.” Nevertheless, Jesus was willing to undergo any humiliation Thomas needed.

This is mercy. Our God is not aloof. He does not stand far off and tell us to make the arduous journey to him. He comes right down to us. He stands inches away and asks us to take one step. We have to make the journey, but he will be with us every step of the way. He will not put up with us living in sin, but he will do everything he can to help us out.

Mercy does not take away justice. What is right is right. Consider the case of a child with a filthy room. A good mother will not allow him to live in filth. He must clean the room. This is justice. It would not be merciful for her to let him live in filth. It would not be merciful to clean the room for him. He must clean his own room; it is only just. But once justice is satisfied, mercy comes in. As soon as the child begins cleaning, his mother comes and helps.

God will not let sinners into heaven. He will not let unbelievers into heaven. It would not be just. If heaven was full of sinners and unbelievers, it would be a lot like earth, which is not exactly perfect. If heaven is going to be perfect, all the people in heaven have to be perfect. It would not be merciful if God made an exception and let someone bad into heaven; it would ruin heaven. Instead, he does everything in his power to make us good.

Jesus tells the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He gives this immense power to them for one reason: because we need forgiveness. They do not receive this power to increase their importance. They passed this power on to their successors and assistants, the bishops and priests. Even today, every priest in the world can forgive sins. How amazing! Life would have been terrible if we had been saved but there were no forgiveness. Only small children would go to heaven. We would lose our salvation as quickly as Adam and Eve.

God has made it so easy to have our sins forgiven. We do not need to climb Mt. Everest or slay a dragon. We only have to go to one of the half a million priests in the world and confess our sins. Maybe you would prefer killing a dragon. Satan wants us to be afraid of Confession. Jesus has made it so easy, but Satan tries to scare us away. We do not need to climb Mt. Everest, but we have to climb over our pride, which might be harder. Only we can get in our own way.

But when we do get in our own way, Jesus will help us find our way again. If Thomas does not believe, Jesus will appear on Thomas’s terms. If we commit sins, Jesus gives his priests the ability to forgive sins. Who knows what secrets are contained within the mercy of God! We cannot imagine what he might have done for those who do not believe in him. We cannot imagine what how far he has gone to forgive an unrepentant sinner. Who knows what has been accomplished in the last second of life!

We must not question God’s justice or imagine that he would be unjust. God is never going to let anything slide. He will not ignore the smallest fault in our souls. God’s justice is perfect, but so is his mercy. We should not imagine any limit to the mercy of God. If we love someone, God loves them more. If we wish someone could go to heaven, God wants it more.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The whole world was in trouble. If we look around nowadays and worry about where things are headed, it is nothing like 2100 years ago. Life was hopeless. There was no solution. Then God, in his mercy, did what no one expected, what no one had dreamed of, and thereby changed the direction of the world forever. Mercy has done amazing things, and mercy will yet do more.