2nd Sunday of Easter; Divine Mercy Sunday (Gospel: John 20:19-31)
There is a story told of a young soldier in Napoleon’s army who was tired of war and wanted to go home. He decided to desert the army, but he was caught. The punishment for desertion was death. Now this man was the only son of his mother who was now widowed. His mother happened to work in Napoleon’s house and the day before his execution she managed to get to see Napoleon in person. She pleaded for her son, and told him that he was the last thing she had in this world. The mother begged Napoleon to have mercy on the man. Napoleon said in reply, ‘He doesn’t deserve to be shown mercy’. But the mother said back to Napoleon, ‘If he did deserve it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’
Today we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy, a feast which focuses on the extraordinary mercy of God; a kind of mercy that doesn’t make sense to us. It is a beautiful feast because it reminds us that while God is just and we will be held accountable for what we do, God is also infinitely merciful. God teaches us that the smallest effort of repentance on our part, is enough. God knows what we are like and that we struggle, but the Lord is not interested in that so much as in the overall direction of where we are trying to head. If we are trying to do what is right and to live as the Lord asks us to, then we have God’s own word for it that He is on our side and we have nothing to fear.
Before the Eternal Father in heaven, Jesus intercedes for us and pleads our cause. Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us, the Advocate. In Italian the same word is used for a lawyer/attorney, one who defends us. The Lord is reminding us that if we are open to him, He is completely on our side and we have absolutely nothing to fear. ‘If God is with us, who can be against us?’ The teaching of Christ and his Church is that forgiveness has already been won for us. We only have to ask for it and accept it.
We live in a culture where revenge is encouraged and those who show mercy are considered weak, but this is not the teaching of the Lord and we must ask ourselves who it is we follow. Strangely, most of us expect to be shown mercy when we die, yet we often think we shouldn't have to show mercy ourselves. In the Gospel today we have another account of Jesus appearing to the disciples. He had every reason to be angry with them because they had all abandoned him when he was arrested. Peter who tried to be faithful ended up publicly swearing that he didn’t know who Jesus was. Yet when Jesus appears to them there is no reproach, only compassion and encouragement. Even Thomas who is understandably skeptical is shown total compassion when he finally gets to see Jesus. Jesus has no interest in condemning him or us, as long as we turn back. The whole event of Easter is about our being forgiven. That forgiveness awaits us if we ask for it. It has already been won for us. It is up to us to keep trying to follow the way of God and ask for his mercy. The only reason we will not receive it is if we deliberately turn our backs on God. Otherwise we have nothing to be afraid of.