12 April 2010
2nd Sunday of Easter - 11 April 2010
Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; Jn 20:19-31
The First Reading this Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles tells of a time when the apostles were already doing so many “signs and wonders". It was a time when just the shadow of Peter as he passes by brought miraculous cures to the sick lined by the roadside. The apostles were no longer the ordinary men – rural folks with their fears and rough edges – who once banded around Jesus.
They were, at this point, men of stature, equal to the task of transforming the world through the Good News. They were founding communities, administering established churches, healing, preaching, traveling, writing. The Second Reading from Revelation contains the words of the disciple presumed to be John who received visions and put them to writing while exiled, on account of the faith, on the island of Patmos.
The Gospel this Sunday presents as if a prologue, a back story to the accounts in the Acts. This pericope is a richly-textured two-part story filled with messages very much relevant to Christians then and now. It is a story of weakness encountering mercy. The First and Second Readings tell us, among other things, of the fruits of the encounter.
I would like to focus my reflection on three elements of the story.
1. The Setting
The first half of the story takes place on the evening of the first day of the week. For the Jews the “first day of the week” is a commemoration of the first day of creation. But for Christians, this particular “first day of the week” has far, far greater significance. This is the day when Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Easter Sunday. This day signifies the beginning of the new creation. A day of rejoicing, a moment of profound grace, whose significance ripples through all eternity.
But in the disciples’ place of gathering, traditionally referred to as the “upper room”, “the doors were locked… for fear of the Jews”. They were huddled in fear, perhaps taking comfort in the presence of one another and in the security of their relative seclusion. But their locked-in situation also prevented them from participating in the ripple of history happening outside. Jesus is risen and His disciples were still in hiding and in fear.
The “upper room” represents our places of refuge, our comfort zones but also, and more importantly, our situations of sin, our patterns of abuse, our downward spiral. They are the places, or states, or situations, or persons, that stunt our growth, that prevent us from living meaningful lives.
2. The Jesus event
But Jesus is able to break through the locked doors of the upper room. They find Him sitting in their midst, dispelling their fears. He shows them the marks of His wounds. They are symbols of the sins of humanity, a reminder of their being sinners but, more importantly, forgiven sinners. This scene tells us the risen Jesus wants to get into our heart, into our whole being, despite the many obstacles that we put up.
He comes with the message: “Peace be with you”. What is peace? I would like to think of it as an inner joy brought about by the absence of inner conflict: when we have not caused any injustice, when our conscience is clear, when we have done deeds of kindness and humility, when we have been forgiven for offenses we have made, when we have been shown mercy. The peace that Christ brings is God’s mercy.
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday, as declared by Pope John Paul II during the canonization St. Maria Faustina in April 2000. The devotion to the Divine Mercy encourages people to seek the mercy of God shown in His forgiveness of our sins and providence in our needs.
For many of us, the words of the “3 ‘o clock Prayer” provide a moment of spiritual union with God. “You died, Jesus, but the source of life flowed out for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fountain of Life, immeasurable Divine Mercy, cover the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.”
Then Jesus “breathed on them”, signifying that they received the Holy Spirit. Earlier, he said: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. There is more to the Divine Mercy than us being just recipients. It comes with a mission. We become conduits of forgiveness, mediators of the Divine Mercy. This is not only true to the apostles and to their descendants, the bishops and the priests who are given the faculty to absolve sins. This is true for the entire People of God. The disciples represent the Church; all her members are bearers of the divine love.
But the story doesn’t end here…
3. The doubt of Thomas
Thomas, who wasn’t around, didn’t believe the stories of his friends. He had many reasons to doubt. He asked for solid proof. And it was given him. On the evening of the week after, Jesus appeared once again, and immediately commanded Thomas to touch the marks of the crucifixion in His body. The Gospel didn’t say whether Thomas did indeed touch Jesus body. But his immediate reaction was the centerpiece of the second half of the story. Thomas exclaimed the greatest and fullest expression about the identity of Christ ever uttered in the Scriptures: “My Lord and my God!”
The point of the story is not that Thomas doubted but that God is merciful.
Once again Jesus took the initiative to dispel his doubts and break through his defenses. The doubt of Thomas took away our doubts. Thomas became a medium of the revelation of Jesus’ full identity: "He is risen. He is our Lord and God."
But the story doesn’t end here either…
2,000 years after Christianity, could we say that we are living already the Easter promise? Are we taking part in the renewed creation of grace?
Sadly, many people are still confined in their own “upper rooms”. Many still lead sad, miserable, pathetic lives. Many people are still encumbered by doubt: they doubt themselves and their abilities, or humanity’s capacity for goodness, or that their dire situation would still change for the better. In short, they doubt the mercy of God. This kind of doubt spawns cynicism and apathy, which in turn leads to bolder intransigence among the corrupt and the oppressors.
I would like to cap this reflection with an old Jewish parable…
A rabbi and a soap maker went for a walk one day at the park and studied the people who had come out to enjoy the warm summer day. After going about a mile along the path the soap maker suddenly turned to the Rabbi and said to him: “Rabbi, what good is religion? What good is there in worshiping God? Look at all the trouble and misery that exists in the world! Even after centuries of teaching and preaching about goodness and truth and peace, there is still so much sin, injustice and sadness. If religion is good and true, why should this be?”
The rabbi said nothing. They continued walking until they happened to see some children playing in the dirt. The rabbi said to the soap maker: “Look at those children. You say that soaps make people clean, but see the dirt on those kids. Of what good is soap? With all the soap in the world, over all these years, those kids are still filthy. I wonder how effective soap is after all!”
The soap maker protested and exclaimed to the rabbi: "But Rabbi soap cannot do anything unless you use it."
With a nod the rabbi said: "Exactly the same with religion”.
G.K. Chesterton once said: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not been tried."
Jesus already dispelled the fear and doubt of the upper room, and replaced them with peace and faith. Now He is sending us, as the Father has sent Him, and as He had sent so many others before us. We are bearers of the Divine Mercy. If only we live our Easter faith, we would become agents of transformation in our family, community, country, and the world.
Live the faith. Be the change.