Divine Mercy Sunday and Repentance

Today’s Gospel records a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus in which a flow of mercy to sinners starts that will not stop until we have all attained the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, as St. Peter tells us in the epistle.

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” (Jn 20:19).  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” (Jn 20:19).  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 feckless, shifty, unreliable, and self-absorbed, yet when He goes to them, He gives them peace and joy (Jn 20:20).  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’” (Jn 20:22-23).  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” (Jn 20:29).  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” (Jn 20:31).  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.

First Reading (Read Acts 2:42-27)

This reading from Acts gives us a “snapshot” of what the triumph of mercy looked like when the apostles began to do the work to which Jesus commissioned them.  On the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter preached the Gospel to the very people responsible for Jesus’ death: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).  When they heard this, they repented and were baptized.  Look at the transformation!  They formed the infant Church, observing the same life we experience today:  the apostles’ teaching (the catechesis of the Church), fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers (the Mass).  There was great joy among them, and they made an impression on the surrounding community, leading to many more conversions.  Imagine if we could step into this scene and ask the Church’s first converts, many of whom had consented to the Lord’s death, “What is the meaning of the Resurrection?”  Do we think they would begin their answer with any word other than “mercy”?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, You offered mercy to Your murderers through the preaching of St. Peter.  Help me to be a channel of Your mercy to others, too.

Psalm (Read Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

This psalm is the same one we heard on Easter Sunday.  Why have we not moved on?  Surely it is because in today’s reading, slightly different from last week’s, we hear what is now becoming a familiar refrain:  “His mercy endures forever” (Ps 118:1-4).  Divine Mercy Sunday keeps us focused on the meaning of the Resurrection: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).  We might ask, “The cornerstone of what?”  Jesus, the Rock, has become the cornerstone of the new Temple made without hands.  In Him, God’s mercy makes it possible for us to approach His throne of grace (cf. Heb 10:19-22).  If we understand this, we will want to declare with the psalmist: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love is everlasting.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Pet 1:3-9)

As is often the case, the epistle summarizes and elaborates on what we have seen in the other readings.  St. Peter immediately identifies the Resurrection of Jesus as the source of God’s mercy that gives “new birth to a living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3) for believers.  He helps us understand something else very important as well.  Just as the suffering of the Passion preceded the Lord’s rise to glory, suffering is to be part of our journey to glory, too.  We are to think of our sufferings as a refiner’s fire meant to purify, not destroy, us.  What a perfect moment this is for St. Peter to remind us of what he learned from Jesus in our Gospel reading—in our suffering, if we continue to believe and love Him, even though we can’t see Him, we will receive the blessing Jesus promised:  “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9).  Mercy!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me know that suffering is also a part of God’s mercy to me, burning away the dross and making me ready for glory.  Help me stay steady in my love for You, even though I can’t “see” You.

Image by Alexey Pevnev on Shutterstock

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Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation, and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Her latest book, Whispers of Mary: What Twelve Old Testament Women Teach Us About Mary is available from Ascension Press. Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.

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