“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘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)
Today is called Divine Mercy Sunday. This is because, on this day, exactly one week after Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He displayed the magnanimity of His Divine Mercy not just to the disciples but to the whole world. Today, we shall be looking at the meaning of Divine mercy by exploring its various dimensions as presented in our readings for today.
1. Divine Mercy is expressed in Peace.
John tells us that the disciples were locked up in a room for fear of the Jews. Even though they were told that Jesus had risen from the dead, they were still afraid because they did not believe. In Mark’s gospel, we are told that Jesus “upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.” (Mark 16:14). When we are afraid of people, it is a sign that we do not trust God. The disciples shut the door against themselves hoping that the wooden bars and locks would keep them safe forgetting that in the event of an attack, these would have easily been broken.
Fear is often the result of panic. The disciples were afraid because they were still trying to fully comprehend what had just happened; they had not yet recovered from the utter shock of seeing Jesus treated like a criminal and crucified. At the bottom of their fear was a lack of inner peace. Jesus did not knock on the door but entered into their midst first, to show them the futility of trusting in human devices for protection, and secondly, to show them Divine mercy by calming their minds.
Hence, the first thing Jesus says to them is: “Peace be with you.” When there is peace in our hearts, it is only then we can see the hand of God clearly working in our lives despite our external situation. Without peace, our minds are not at rest, we suddenly forget what God can do and we begin to run helter-skelter. We act without reason and without faith like the disciples did when they faced a storm at sea while Jesus slept peacefully in the cushion. Child of God, each time you feel restless deep within you or you cannot understand what is going on around you, learn to say this short prayer: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Keep saying it until you become calm, then your eyes will be open to see Jesus right there with you.
2. Divine Mercy is expressed in God’s Forgiveness.
Immediately after calming the minds of the disciples, Jesus proceeded to create the sacrament of forgiveness. Not only was Jesus absolving the disciples themselves of their faults, He made them ministers of God’s forgiveness by empowering them with the ability to either forgive or retain the sins of others. This again is another concrete expression of Divine Mercy. If you have ever gone attended the sacrament of penance with the faith that you are not just talking to your fellow human being but one to whom God has given the power to forgive sins, you will discover how light you feel afterward.
When we go for confession, God so forgives our sins and washes us that we can confidently say we become new creatures. God does not remember our sins because the moment we offload them at the confessional, our old self dies and we leave as newborn babies. Just as you cannot accuse a newborn baby of sin, God no longer accuses us of the sins that we have dropped at the confessional. Never be too shy to go to confession; it is not the priest who forgives us but Jesus Christ himself who gave the priest the power to retain or absolve sins in His name.
Jesus again concretely expressed Divine Mercy by forgiving Thomas who demanded evidence to prove that Jesus was truly alive. After making Thomas touch His hands and feet and feel his side that was pierced with a lance, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29) I think this statement perfectly applies to all those Christians who are never tired of asking questions like: “where is so and so in the bible? Show me, where is it written?”
Thomas was told that Jesus came but he was asking, “where is it in the bible?” He was asking for evidence. Jesus says to us today: “Blessed are those who have not seen where it is stated in the Bible and yet believe.” If you decide to limit your faith only to what you see in the bible, I wonder if you really have faith at all. I wonder how you can believe that a God for whom nothing is impossible would confine Himself to the bible alone. Even the Bible itself expresses its limitation by saying it is not everything Jesus did that is written down. (John 20:31 & John 21:25).
3. Divine Mercy is expressed in Healing.
In today’s first reading, we see how God worked great signs and wonders through the ministry of the apostles. It got to an extent that they carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The final verse of today’s first reading states: “The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:16). Take note, it says: “they were all healed” meaning no one was left out.
Being a priest myself, I must confess that each time I read this passage, I ask myself: “How come God is not using me like He used Peter and the other disciples? Is it not the same anointing that is flowing in me? If only the shadow of Peter could cure the sick, why is it that I have laid my hands on the sick only to hear that they later died?” As I ponder on these questions, I also cannot but mention that there are countless times that I prayed for people and they came back with testimonies.
There was even a day I said something to someone jokingly at it became a prophecy – yes, it happened exactly as I said to the extent that I became afraid of my mouth. He was thanking me but deep inside of me, I knew this was not my doing at all. There was a time that someone asked me to pray for them, I wrote it down hoping to go with the intention to mass but before I got to the church, the person called again to say God has done it. In each of these instances, I had to make it very clear that it is not me but God at work.
Now get the point: Miracles are still happening today. God is still very much at work in the affairs of mankind. Just as the Bible does not contain everything we need to know about God, miracles and inspiration did not stop with the Bible. However, when God is working, it is never for the glorification of the minister but for God’s own glory. Let us avoid worshipping the minister. Every miraculous healing is God showing His Divine Mercy, not God telling us that so and so is powerful. Be careful, there are a lot of scammers out there. Shine your eyes.
4. Divine mercy is expressed in Revelation.
In today’s second reading, John describes his experience, or rather, his encounter with God on the island of Patmos. He tells us that he found himself there on account of the tribulation and persecution that the Christian community was facing. In fact, if we want to understand the book of Revelation, we must bear in mind that this whole book was addressed to the Christians who were suffering the heat of severe persecution. This is why John employs very coded languages to pass on his message. John’s purpose was to give consolation to the Christians and assure them of a better life ahead.
One of the ways God shows mercy to us is by revealing certain things to us that we would never have been able to figure out on our own. The truth is that the more we draw close to God, the more we would hear God speaking to us. As God spoke to John on the island of Patmos, God speaks to us in moments we are afraid, depressed, confused, and troubled. Instead of running helter-skelter looking for quick fixes for our problems, let us develop the act of listening to God. Spend time each day to meditate on God’s word and your life would never be the same again.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see your mercy at work every day of my life. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 5:12-16, Ps. 118:2-4,22-27, Rev. 1:9-13,17-19, John 20:19-31
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu