Theme: I believe
Divine mercy is forever ready
In a world almost suffocated by materialism and indifference we need to contemplate the mystery of Divine Mercy who alone is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on him. Mercy reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Today being the Sunday of Divine Mercy we are called to be merciful so as to become a more effective sign of God’s action around us.
First reading: Acts 5:12-16
Last Sunday on Easter we listened to Peter at the home of Cornelius describing Jesus as one who went about doing good. This Sunday we witness Peter and companions continuing the mission of Jesus. Their words and works reached out to others without discrimination; all who came to them were cured. They welcomed those who believed and as a result “great numbers of men and women were added to them” Acts 5:14. Why were there numbers increasing? Because these disciples of Jesus were close-knit, they shared goods and put their talents in common gathering around the Twelve for liturgical celebrations and catechetical instructions.
The transformed disciples and to the emergence of a faith movement that survived the storm to this day is a sure proof that Jesus is alive. Their experiences of faith in the risen Jesus inspired their efforts to give themselves over to the work he had begun. With forgiveness, they healed minds and bodies of those who were sick or disturbed by “unclean spirits” Acts 5:16. Those who had previously remained hidden for fear of the Jewish authorities were now boldly gathering in Solomon’s Portico, an area of the temple where Jesus himself had ministered. Slowly but surely, they became a community of believers rooted in the Christ-event, committed to reaching out to the whole world with their message of hope and salvation. This is what we are called to do.
Second reading: Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19
Today John visions the beginnings the Christ-event and how it was finding its way to several seashores amidst persecution that had forced him to exile himself to Patmos. This not withstanding; his message of hope and resistance to evil echoed forth even from Patmos. People in distant places heard him proclaim and took heart. His vision of the living Lord who was dead but now alive gave them hope and courage to persevere. The same John urged a similar spirit of resistance against the Roman Empire in defense of their faith. Couched in the apocalyptic genre, the resistance literature known as the Book of Revelation offered a series of visions and exhortations intended to bolster their hope. Many scholars agree that Revelation addressed the period of persecution under Emperor Domitian who had demanded that everyone worship him and the state gods since he had declared himself divine with a title of our lord and god.
Romans somehow tolerated Judaism which they called a sect but hated Christianity. Due to this prejudice; Christians became prey not only to the empire but also to Jewish authorities. With an intension to show solidarity, John raised his voice to lift up their hearts. In this text, John shares his inaugural vision with the seven Churches of Asia Minor/modern day Turkey configured as seven lamp stands. The Churches were urged to find strength in their firm belief in Jesus who is the ultimate sovereign over all. Jesus is pictured as the “Son of Man” Daniel 7:10 with a “belt of gold” 1Maccabees 10:89 like a king and he holds the keys symbolizing him to be the master of life and death. John convinced his audience that regardless of how powerful the empire may seem, Jesus is more powerful that even death could not defeat him. Therefore those who suffer and die for his sake should never allow fear to overcome them. In him, says John, they too will emerge from suffering to be alive forever and ever cf. Revelation 1:18.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Like Revelation, today’s Gospel was also composed by John. Here the evangelist offers his version of ‘tossing of the stone’ that initiated the Jesus movement. As with creation itself, the movement began with the breath of God. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors in fear and trepidation. The Spirit instilled peace that cast out fear and empowered them to go forth to continue his work of forgiveness.
In the interchange with Thomas, John acknowledges that many others would be touched by the ripples that began in Jerusalem and eventually configured themselves to all the peoples along all the shorelines of the then-known world. Speaking to Thomas, Jesus insists that all these other potential believers are ‘blessed’ since they would believe without seeing. This Gospel wants us to agree that fears are educated into us and can, if we wish, be educated out of us. Jesus’ disciples received an education in fear at the hands of the political and religious leaders of their day. Had they allowed that it to remain within them, it would have overwhelmed their freedom and the Jesus movement may have stalled at the outset. As he had promised, however, Jesus sent another teacher, an advocate who would educate them in the truth that would set them free and who would propel the movement outward from Jerusalem. Today John features Jesus breathing the gift of the Holy Spirit upon his followers, giving them a new and enduring education.
Through the power of the Spirit, they were filled with a peace that helped to strengthen them against fear and to take up the ministry of forgiveness that Jesus had begun among them. We can understand the forgiving/binding of sins cf. John 20:23 as a reference to the Church’s prerogative of baptizing or withholding the Sacrament depending upon the candidate’s acceptance of the Kerygma. We can also understand it by referring to rabbinical terms asar/bind and sera/loose, as understood in John 20:23 to refer to Church’s discipline, meaning the right to admit or refuse admittance to the community for reasons of sinfulness. While these later ecclesiastical and juridical developments may find some support in this Gospel, they should not overshadow its primary message of peace and forgiveness. Through his saving death and resurrection, Jesus has made it possible for all repentant and believing sinners to appropriate these good and life-giving blessings from God. Thomas was not present to appropriate these gifts on Easter night and he subsequently refused to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples. He doubted. He wanted to have something/someone palpable to hold before he would invest himself fully in believing. Through Thomas’ experience and his conversation with the risen Jesus a week later made John write a convincing apology in defense of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus’ invitation for Thomas to touch him affirmed the authenticity of his body and corrected false assertions that the appearances of the risen Lord were simply products of his disciples’ overactive imaginations.
Thomas, who had doubted initially, was called to move beyond the sensational aspects of the resurrection to grow into a committed faith in Jesus’ abiding presence. It is significant that Thomas’ expression of faith did not depend on his actual touching of Jesus but on Jesus’ challenge: ‘Do not be unbelieving but believe.’ Thomas’ confession, ‘my Lord and my God’, united the Church’s growing awareness of Jesus as one with and equal to the Creator of the universe. This beatitude of Jesus continues to encourage the faith of those who long to see but who are content to believe and hope and trust that one day, we will see God face to face for all eternity. We believers today are to extend this blessedness to as many people as we can, in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can until Jesus comes again in glory.
From her inception, Christian faith was built on acts of charity; let us continue being generous in sharing with others what God has blessed us with. Whatever good we are able to do including forgiveness, we ought to do it because we love Jesus. Faith does not promise us indefinite security but the courage to perceiver. Amidst persecution we must never surrender. Like Thomas, we may be challenged by doubt; the truth remains that Jesus in risen and is alive, we are called to believe under any circumstances whatsoever. Jesus has come to us in the darkness of our confusion and reassures us that: ‘peace be with you’ let us be his witnesses. This being a Sunday of Divine mercy we are invited repeat ‘that for the sake of thy sorrowful passion, mercy on us and the whole world’ cf. Psalm25:6