Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Both our capacity to receive and extend the Mercy of God is powered by the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead, so let us begin with the Gospel.  We have before us the story of ’doubting Thomas’, a nickname that gives him a bad reputation of course.  I prefer to think of him as ’verification’ or ‘proof’ Thomas, or ’concrete evidence’, Thomas. ’Seeing is not believing’ for Thomas.  If he was a modern person he might fear that the vision of Jesus could be an illusion or a construct of wishful thinking.  Thomas wants ’hands on proof’. Only by touching Jesus will he really know that this Resurrection claim is ‘real’.  Only the wounded flesh of Jesus will give him access to the explosive power of the Resurrection.  As the Early Church Father Tertullian says in the second century, ’’The flesh is the hinge of salvation’’.  After all, touch is the foundation of all the other senses, the prime sense, so to speak, and the ground of many of our certainties.  Thomas is no different, he agrees with St John who says in his first letter; “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and ‘touched with our hands’, concerning the Word of life’’.(I Jn.1:1).  For some disciples, just seeing Jesus is not enough, the empty tomb, the linen cloths laid off to the side, the testimony of the angels, the sound of Jesus’ voice calling us by name.  The Risen Jesus is more than concrete, he opens his still wounded Risen flesh for Thomas to touch, he eats fish, breaks bread, and gives it to them, and to us, to eat.  Yes, Tertullian, ’The flesh is the hinge of salvation’.  Faith is Incarnate, ‘the Word made flesh’, concrete givenness, transformed with Resurrection Power.  Like the Apostolic community, only the power of the Risen Jesus can break us out of the prison house of our upper room fears.

Our first reading gives us a powerful hint of just how transformative the power of the Risen Jesus was and is in the midst of his Church.  It tells the story of what has been called ’early Christian communism’.  An unfortunate label, because it too easily allows our biases against the modern political ideology of the same name to interfere with our capacity to really hear this story of ‘mercy in action’.  It says, ’’The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possession, but everything they owned was held in common… There was not a needy person among them’’. (Acts 4: 32, 34).

Given the divisions among the social classes of the time, in both ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman society, this radical transformation of not only their personal lives, but their socio-economic lives as well, is really quite pronounced.  The poor and the rich do not mix, then or now, unless something more powerful explodes these social categories and brings us face to face with each other.  Our reading from the book of Acts tells us what this power was and is. It says, ’’With great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all’’. (Acts 4: 33).  Obedient attentiveness to the testimony of the Apostles, (for us, prayerful  reading the New Testament), will bestow great grace upon us as well, a grace that can turn our lives upside down with mercy, and bring us face to face with the other.

Having a merciful heart is how we show our love for God by touching the wounded flesh of Christ in the person in need. In answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour”? (Lk. 10:29) Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, and concludes with the phrase, ‘Go and do likewise”. (Lk. 10:37). This is how we ’keep his commandments’, which, ’are not burdensome’ when they are kept in this way.  This lived faith is also how we, ’overcome the world’, or, as one contemporary translation puts it; ’’This is the victory that has conquered the cosmos, our faithfulness”. Faith in the Resurrected Son of God who comes to us by ’’the water and the blood’’ that flows from his wounded side. With Thomas, let us also, “Go and do likewise”.