Sunday’s Gospel records a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus in which His mercy to sinners begins to flow. Watch out! There is no stopping it.
Gospel (Read Jn 20:19-31)
The celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday usually focuses on the sheer ecstasy of His victory over death. All during Holy Week, we are absorbed with the details of His horrific Passion. When we reach Easter, our hearts nearly burst with joy that Jesus is alive and vindicated as God’s Son. In other words, it’s easy to dwell on the fact of the Resurrection and be so dazzled by it that we do not think much beyond that. The mercy of Divine Mercy Sunday (yes, intended pun) is that now we begin to meditate on the meaning of the Resurrection. Today’s Gospel gets us started.
When Jesus miraculously appears among the apostles, we find they are locked in a room “for fear of the Jews.” These fellows have not lately impressed us, have they? His closest friends (Peter, James, and John) slept instead of keeping watch and praying in Gethsemane. All the apostles except John fled the Crucifixion, and they were all reluctant to believe the witness of the women to whom Jesus first appeared. Yet the word Jesus speaks to them is, “Peace.” Then He commissions them to continue the work the Father sent Him to do. If the Gospel reading stopped right here, we would still have enough information to knock us over backwards with joy: Jesus loves sinners! These men were often feckless and self-absorbed, yet when He goes to them, He gives them peace and joy. Can any scene in the Gospels demonstrate more clearly than this one the meaning of Easter?
Jesus then does something truly astounding. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” What?? Are we prepared to see this in the story? Jesus breathed His own breath on the very people who failed Him in His hour of need. This action reminds us of God breathing into Adam’s nostrils His own breath at Creation, confirming him in “the image and likeness of God.” Jesus establishes the apostles as those who will continue His divine work on earth. In them, God will forgive or retain sin. What can explain Jesus building a Church that is both human and divine other than the boundless mercy of God?
We find that one of the apostles, Thomas, was missing from this momentous occasion. When he gets the report of it, he refuses to believe it. He must see and touch the wounds of Jesus to be convinced. We don’t know why Thomas doubted the men with whom he’d spent the last three years and who, along with himself, had been chosen as Jesus’ closest intimates. His refusal to believe makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? His doubt and cynicism don’t seem to come from a good place, yet Jesus appears and gives him precisely what he needs for faith. Mercy! This river of mercy is starting to gain momentum. Jesus then helps us to understand where the river is headed: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.” This happy river is coming our way. It will flow out to everyone, everywhere, in all times. Those who believe in Jesus without ever seeing Him are going to be swept up in the torrent of God’s mercy for sinners.
If we have been slow on the uptake, St. John puts it all together for us: “These [signs of the Risen Jesus] are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief, you might have life in His Name”. The meaning of the Resurrection is the triumph of mercy and new life for sinners. Isn’t this a great Day?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know myself to be as weak, fickle, and hard-hearted as the apostles sometimes were; thank You for the mercy You offered to them and to me.