The disciples had locked themselves in a room out of fear of further persecution from the Jewish leadership. Jesus was crucified and as their followers they must have believed they would be next. They were also ashamed of having turned away from Jesus during his time of dire need. Amidst the heavy weight of fear, despair, and shame, Jesus “came and stood in their midst”. Their reaction of amazement and fear of Jesus’ judgement could only just begin to form in their minds because as Jesus came and stood in their midst [he] said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus forgave them for their betrayal, for not being there for him. He did not appear to his followers to rub their nose in their shame or to tell them he told them so. Jesus came among them and immediately bestowed upon them his mercy. He then commissioned them to be his Apostles as he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” As Jesus is the Son of God, he has the power to forgive, and he is now sending his Apostles to be bearers of his forgiveness and mercy as he works through them.
Thomas, though not present on this first encounter, is present the following week and seeing the marks on Jesus hands and his side, he too believed, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas too became an agent of mercy and reconciliation.
Today, we still have access to the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness instituted by Jesus as is recorded in today’s Gospel of John. This is a gift of healing made available to us, like the Eucharist, so that we may continue to experience Jesus, our Lord and our God, working in our life. When we come to the priest, we are coming to those, who in an unbroken apostolic succession, have continued to be bearers of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy. It is to Jesus, through our priests, that we confess, and that we hear the words of and receive absolution.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, may we spend some quiet time with today’s Gospel and imagine ourselves in the locked room with the disciples. Experience Jesus appearing in our midst as he says, “Peace be with you!” Allow the radiating light of his mercy and forgiveness to wash over and through our whole being. Let us call to mind those sins that have kept us bound, visualize them as words floating up and out of us and dissipating in the radiance of Jesus’ white and red rays emanating from his merciful heart. May we allow ourselves to be transformed by the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
Having received the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus in the healing sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus sends us out to practice mercy and forgiveness with others. May we react less and breath deeply more. Instead of adding fuel to the fire of negativity, let us seek to be an advocate for healing and reconciliation. May we also take some time today to think of someone who could benefit from the presence of Jesus through our being present to them, someone who may need “to hear God’s good news of forgiveness and love” (Francis, 25). We are not able to absolve someone of their sin, but we can forgive, make an effort to reach out to others in prayer and in person, and allow the love and mercy of Jesus to flow through us to those in our midst. Alleluia!
Painting: The first image of the Divine Mercy painted representing St. Faustina’s vision by Eugene Kazimirowski, 1935
McCann, Deborah. 30 Days of Reflections and Prayers: What Pope Francis Says About Mercy. New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2015.