“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).
Yesterday was the Sunday of Mercy or ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ as revealed to St. Faustina. Our Gospel passage narrates how Jesus on this very day (Eight days after Easter) performed the greatest act of Mercy when He appeared to the eleven disciples and gave them the power to forgive sins. To really appreciate what Jesus did, we need to place ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites who had to offer an animal each time they sought God’s forgiveness.
For instance, in Leviticus 4:27-30, God said: “If any one of the common people sins unwittingly in doing any one of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and is guilty, when the sin which he has committed is made known to him he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar.”
There were several forms of sin offerings for different persons. If an anointed priest or a ruler sins, he needed to sacrifice a whole bull at the tent of meeting. This is why it was shocking to the Scribes and Pharisees when Jesus simply pronounced forgiveness to the paralytic in Mark 2. They wondered: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” By rising from the dead, Jesus not only proves He is God, He also extends the power of forgiving sins to men, thereby establishing the Sacrament of Confession. There are so many lessons for us today.
1. Peace and Forgiveness Go Together.
One great lesson Jesus teaches us today is that there is an intrinsic connection between peace and forgiveness. Do you notice how restless you are when you cannot forgive? By saying “Peace be with you” and repeating it again, Jesus was essentially saying “I forgive you and I forgive you completely.” Do you seriously lack peace of mind? Then please examine your heart thoroughly to find out if there are persons you are yet to forgive, find out those negative memories and feelings you have refused to let go. Without mercy (forgiveness), we can never find inner peace.
2. In Confession, It is God Who Forgives Sins.
Just after declaring peace upon the disciples, Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” then He proceeded to give them the power to absolve or retain sins. Just as God breathed on Adam at creation thereby giving him life, Jesus breathed on the disciples thereby giving them an extraordinary power to do something only God can do. When we go for confession, the priest empowered by the grace of Ordination is able to absolve the penitent of his or her sins completely, yet the priest remains only an instrument. God is the one who forgives. This is a mystery only faith can grasp.
3. If we Receive Mercy, We Too Must Give Mercy.
In the mind of the world, justice is only served when we retaliate a wrong done. Just as the world does not know God, it does not know Forgiveness. In truth, a huge part of spreading the Gospel today is teaching the world by our example how to forgive. To forgive is to suffer wrongs patiently. St. Peter tells us in our second reading today to rejoice when we suffer in that “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
The truth is that if we who claim to be followers of Christ cannot forgive, then we are no different from the unbelievers. According to Bishop Godfrey Onah, “If our enemies succeed in making us hate them, then they have conquered us completely. For Christianity without love, including love of the enemy, is empty. And a Christian without that love might as well be of any other religion.”
4. An Important Aspect of Mercy is Compassion.
Mercy goes beyond forgiveness, mercy is indeed the opposite of selfishness. To be merciful is to put the needs and concerns of others before yours. To be merciful is to practice what we read in today’s first reading: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
To be merciful is to look out for the interests of others, feeling sorry for their plight and finding ways to ease their predicament. The hunger virus is seriously raging in our communities today. Social media is agog with images and videos of people trying to steal food from moving vehicles, people struggling to get bread. The effects of the lockdown is likely to claim more lives than the virus itself. Let us be merciful to one another. Share the little you have. Remember the corporal works of mercy are the basis on which we shall be judged on the last day. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
To be merciful is to treat people not as they deserve but in accordance with the law of love. Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared and when he was told, he refused to believe. Thomas deserved some strokes of the cane but when Jesus appeared the following Sunday, He asked Thomas to touch Him.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” You don’t need to see signs and wonders to believe that God forgives sins in the confessional or that God can forgive you if you say the perfect act of contrition. You don’t need to travel to heaven to see God. God is right here in that hungry brother or sister who does not know where his or her next meal would come from. Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, don’t just receive God’s forgiveness, be a channel; offer forgiveness to someone today. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, help me to be merciful like your father is merciful. Amen. Bible Study: Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31).