Divine Mercy Sunday (Sunday of Week 2 of Easter ) Year B

Commentary on Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

Today’s Gospel begins in an atmosphere of fear. It is Easter Sunday, two days after the death of Jesus. The disciples are inside the house with the doors firmly locked because they are terrified that, as companions of Jesus, they too will be liable to arrest and punishment. The words of assurance they had been given earlier are all forgotten.

Suddenly, Jesus is standing in their midst. The very fact that he can be present in spite of the locked doors indicates that he is not the same as before, that he is present in a new way.

Peace with you.

His greeting is the normal Jewish greeting of Shalom, but, coming from Jesus – the Prince of Peace – to this group of frightened people, it has special meaning. And, in the Greek, there is no verb, so it can be taken either as a wish or a statement of fact – where Jesus is truly present to us, there is peace.

He shows them his hands and side. He is not just a disembodied ghost, but the same Jesus who died on the cross – and yet there are differences. The disciples’ fear is gradually transformed into an indescribable joy at the return of their Master. He continues to speak to them. Repeating his greeting of peace, he proceeds to give them their mission. There is no word critical of their failure to stand by him in his final moments.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Then he breathed on them:

Receive the Holy Spirit.

The breath of life is reminiscent of God breathing on the dust of the earth and creating human life in the first man. It is also the breath of the Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

A new mission
Then comes their mission:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Is that all he gave them to do? It does not seem much. What about all the other things the Gospel talks about? And yet, it is all there in those words.

With reconciliation comes the full benefit of the forgiveness of sin. The disciples’ task is to bring about the reconciliation of all with their God, with their brothers and sisters and with the whole of creation. That is their primary mission, to which all their other efforts and teaching will be subordinated. To restore right relationships between God and his people, among the people themselves, and with the rest of creation. That is a pretty big programme.

In practice, it involves a lot more than just saying words of forgiveness. It involves much more than ‘going to confession’ and being absolved by a priest. It involves working to create a whole society based on these right relationships. It is the making of the Kingdom of God. And, of course, their mission is also ours. The words of Jesus spoken to them are also spoken to us.

An ideal community
This is very well expressed in the description of the ideal Christian community we find in the First Reading.

…whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul…

This is the unity of community and fellowship.

…no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

None of that individualistic greed and competitiveness that so marks our societies today.

As a result,

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold…and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Can we find that today anywhere in the Church? Actually yes. It is present in communities of religious life, where it is properly lived. But it needs to be lived more widely among all Christians. Some Christian communities of lay living are moving in that direction.

The Second Reading speaks of keeping God’s commandments. And, the writer tells us, those commandments are not difficult. That may not be our experience, and yet, it is true because those commandments are only a call to be totally true to our human nature. They are not asking us to do things which are not in accord with our nature or transcending our nature. And, of course, in the New Covenant, the commandments in question are those telling us to love each other as Jesus loves us – to be agents of peace and reconciliation and justice, which ties in with the Gospel and the First Reading.

The doubter
On that Easter, there was one apostle missing – Thomas. When he was told that his companions had “seen the Lord”, he said he would not believe unless he saw with his own eyes the marks of the wounds and put his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side.

And then, one week later – today, in fact – they were all, including Thomas, gathered together in the room. Although the doors were locked, Jesus was suddenly there among them. After the greeting of peace, he invited Thomas not just to look, but to touch the wounds in his hands and side saying:

Do not doubt but believe.

Thomas yields completely to the experience saying,

My Lord and my God!

It is one of the most powerful acknowledgements of Jesus’ real identity in the whole Gospel and the only time anyone directly calls him God. Ironically, too, it is an act of faith. Thomas could not see directly that Jesus was God. No one can see God directly. But the experience convinced Thomas that he was in the presence of God himself.

The following words of Jesus are meant to encourage us, all those who have not had Thomas’ experience:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

We, too, need to be always open to experiences where God’s unmistakable presence can be recognised.

Finally, we are reminded that everything that is in the Gospel is to help us to come to that stage of faith by which we:

…believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.

Untold numbers of people have tried this and found that it is altogether true. They have found in following Christ, a meaning, a direction and a very special quality to their lives which cannot be found anywhere else. May that be our experience too.

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