ACTS 4:32-35 /PSALM 118/ 1 JOHN 5:1-6/ JOHN 20:19-31
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA:
GOD’S MERCIFUL LOVE AS A FOUNT OF HUMAN MUTUAL LOVE
The 2nd Sunday of Easter is dedicated to the celebration of the Feast of Divine Mercy, a devotion originating from the apparitions of Jesus to a Polish Nun, Faustina Kowalska which she wrote in her 1934-1938 diary. The devotion promotes trust in God’s mercy and showing mercy to others, and by so doing, letting oneself be a means through which others can experience God’s mercy. Saint Pope John Paul II was a great devotee and promoter of the Divine Mercy, authorizing it in the Liturgical Calendar.
In today’s readings, we encounter God’s mercy in Jesus’ post-resurrection apparitions to his disciples by means of which they obtained the grace to conquer the twin dangers of fear and doubt. In imitation of such radical love, the early Christian community modeled its life in such a way that the early Christians learned to share in one another’s riches and poverty.
In the 1st Reading (Acts 4:32-35), we are told that the community of believers became of one heart and mind, no one holding unto his possessions and as such, no one was left needy. Those who possessed houses and lands brought the proceeds of their sales and distribution was made to each according to his/her needs. In this way, they testified to the resurrection of Jesus and proved themselves to be living under grace.
The Greek word for grace (charis) translates the Hebrew term chesed, meaning “loving-kindness”, “steadfast love”, “great mercy”, or “grace”, in his relationship with Israel his covenanted nation and with mankind in general. Another Hebrew word for grace is rah’amim. This denotes an act of grace carried out based on trust between people who are committed to each other in a mutual relationship.
While grace as chesed defines God’s very nature as merciful, grace as rah’amim defines his concrete acts of kindness based on his loving commitment as creator towards his creatures and as Lord towards those who trust in him. God’s merciful love, as the Psalmist describes it, “endures forever” (Ps 118).
As children of God, we are products of his love and grace and so we owe him our love, our faith and our trust. Our love for God must also reflect in our commitment to love one another as children of God and therefore as all brothers and sisters. Only love among us is capable of characterizing us as people living under God’s grace and genuine witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. As we read in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The 2nd Reading (1 John 5:1-7) underscores loving God through faith in his begotten Son, Jesus the Christ and through obedience to his commandments. We are told that faith is the victory that overcomes the world. As we read, “This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:4b-5).
In the Gospel (John 20:19-31), we see that following Jesus’ death and as news of his resurrection began to spread, the disciples were at the risk of being conquered by fear and doubt, two emotions that are obstacles to faith. As we read, “For fear of the Jews, the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked” (Jn 20:19). We get to also understand that at least some of his disciples also entertained serious doubts concerning the news of his resurrection.
To dispel the fear, Jesus greets them repeatedly invoking peace upon them, “Peace be with you” (eirēnē humîn) (vv.19.21.26). To dispel the doubt, “he showed them his hands and his side” at which we are told in v. 20, “the disciples rejoiced.”
Fear and doubt left the disciples sad, the return of peace and faith restored to them the joy necessary for effective witnessing. Only after this would Jesus breathe the Holy Spirit on them, giving them the authority to forgive sins (vv.22-23).
The case of Thomas highlights the danger of the doubt that the disciples faced, and the necessity for the post-resurrection appearances. Thomas risked finishing in disbelief, for he had said: “Unless I see…I will not believe” (v.25). The appearance of Jesus resolved this crisis and removed such risk. For as Jesus showed him all the signs of his suffering, he told him, “Do not doubt but believe” (v.27) and when Thomas saw all that, he made the most radical profession of faith in Jesus not only as Lord but also as God, the only such profession in the New Testament. In v.28, Thomas said: “My Lord and my God” (Ho Kyriòs mou kai ho Theòs mou), which echoes Psalm 35:23: “Wake, rouse yourself for my cause, for my claim, O my God and my Lord.”
The disciples were happy to see Jesus and they believed. Jesus extends that blessedness or happiness to future disciples who will not see and yet will believe. In this way, the Evangelist invites us to appreciate faith, not sight, as the disciple’s source of blessedness. As St. Paul would put it, “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
For the Evangelist, faith is the fulfillment of all that is written concerning Jesus, as well as the source of life in Christ. As we read in v.31: “These [signs] are written so that you may come to believe…and that through believing you may have life in his name.” In fact, from the very beginning of the Gospel of John, we are told that faith is what gives us the power to become children of God. As we read in John 1:12: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”
As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, make us grow in faith, O our Lord and our God, and so become more and more your children, rooted in mercy and radical love, so that we can conquer our world with compassion and fraternity, and make it one big community where no one will have to be left behind because others want to get ahead, where no one will lack anything because others want to keep for themselves everything!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
Honest Doubt and Peace
Pope John Paul II calls the second Sunday of Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday”. It is a special day when we give thanks to God for all that we have received from him as we have it in today’s psalm (Ps.118). We thank God for the gift of our redemption in Christ Jesus. We owe the debt we could not pay; He paid the debt He did not owe. So we thank God for such unmerited favour. We thank him for his Divine Mercy. Beloved, Divine mercy is a mystery of faith that goes far beyond a particular devotion. In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, the Holy Father explains that Divine Mercy is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love in a history injured by sin. The Bible says; all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Mercy restores man back to God’s glory. We are sinners; but mercy is our hope. The readings today offer us the opportunity to further understand the Divine Mercy of God.
Divine mercy is the medicine for all sinners: This medicine is administered by a priest through the power of the sacrament of reconciliation as Jesus says in today’s gospel John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; … Whoever’s sins you retain, they have been retained…” The sacrament of penance is a place where validly ordained priests exercise this mandate. We are all sinners but the confessional makes the difference. A saint runs to the confessional; but a sinner runs away from the confessional. At the confessional we are washed. In John 13:8 Jesus said to Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Therefore, if we must have part in Jesus we must wash. In Rev.7:14 an elder in heaven describes the saints as those who have come out of the great tribulation and are washed in the blood of the lamb. Beloved let us wash. What is that addiction that troubles you? In Isaiah 1:18 says “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool.” Divine is our hope let us immerse ourselves in him.
Divine Mercy is the hope for doubting Christians: How do we understand Thomas? We need to be clear on how we understand Thomas. The well-liked interpretation puts him in a bad light, as “doubting Thomas”. Beyond this, Thomas was honest about his doubt and honest doubts often produce great faith. Thus he was the first to declare the Lordship and Divinity of Jesus Christ – He says “My Lord and my God”. If you are in doubt come to the fount of Mercy and your doubt shall be wiped away. Thomas honest doubt is a model for modern Christians. Thomas insisted that before he could believe in Jesus’ resurrection he must see the holes the nails made in his hands; put his finger into the holes and his hand into the great wound made by the centurion’s lance. As a matter of fact, the Merciful Jesus honours him by His second appearance where He addressed Thomas directly. Therefore, Thomas’ doubt was a necessary doubt. Necessary doubt saves us from gullibility. His doubt was faith seeking understanding.
Today, despite the level of awareness it has become so easy to confuse Christians than to convince them. A lot of Christians today are gullible, they believe anything and so they are exploited in the name of faith and Christ. The exploitation in Christianity today strives because many Christians are gullible. Many Christians run after all kinds of oil in the market. Pastors are selling oil the same way Babalawos are selling soap. Beloved in Christ, the Church is not a refinery; be careful! Am not condemning articles of faith but am against the absolutist view about them. Do not be gullible. In gullibility a man is so open-minded that his brain falls out. Open your mind; but use your brain. Even the bible does not ask you to believe everything; 1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
On the other hand, in as much as the Divine Mercy honours necessary doubt we should be careful not to fall into the errors of rationalism – The philosophy of reason as the only and authentic source of knowledge. Christianity is a religion of faith and reason. Traditionally, faith and reason have each been considered to be sources of justification for religious belief. Because both can purportedly serve the same epistemic function, there can be no conflict between the two—reason properly employed and faith properly understood will never produce contradictory or competing claims. Thomas had faith that his reason never knew. Thus, he was seeking for understanding – he was spiritually curious. As soon as he understood; he worshiped, he did not argue further. Beloved, inasmuch as we must guide against gullibility we must know where to draw the line so that we don’t fall into the errors of the rationalists.
Divine Mercy is the Giver of Peace: “Peace be with you”, these were the very words of Jesus to his disciples when he appeared to them. After Jesus’ death, the society was in disorder – religious and political tensions about Jesus. Amidst these tensions Jesus said to them “Peace be with you”. Beloved in Christ, we need peace as a community and as individual. A community where there is no peace things are torn into pieces. Lack of peace is one of the major causes of high blood pressure today. Some families are in real crises, many individuals have no peace of mind. We cannot practice true Christian spirit as we have it in the first reading without peace. Believers won’t share their possessions for the good of all without peace. If there is no peace the goal of the Christian community shall be defeated. To restore the confidence of his people Jesus manifested himself as the peace – giver. In the Eucharistic celebration Jesus speaks the language of peace in the person of the celebrant; “Peace be with you!” This greeting has both spiritual and physical value. Peace to our body and peace to our soul. In accordance with Col 3:15 I pray that the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts. Amen!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
“Peace be with you”: Thomas’ doubt – Our fears/worries
This second Sunday of Easter is the Sunday consecrated by Late Pope John Paul II to Divine Mercy.
Today’s liturgy invites us to see in Divine Mercy the source of that authentic peace that the Risen Christ offers us. The wounds of the Risen and Glorious Lord are the permanent sign of God’s merciful love for humanity. From them flows a sort of spiritual light that illuminates consciences and infuses consolation and hope in hearts.
When Jesus appears, it is already a sign of mercy. The mere fact of appearing and making Himself visible is, for those present, a proof of love, a testimony of the paternal solicitude of Jesus the Son of God.
On the first Easter day, the Risen Christ’s first words to his disciples were “Peace be with you.” All the evangelists testified to this fact in all their accounts. To emphasize the importance of this fact St. John in the Gospel passage we have just listened to had Christ repeat these words “Peace be with you” each time He visited the disciples, even twice in the first appearance. We can imagine what the situation was at that particular time.
Each time, the gospels tell us, the disciples were behind closed doors. They were muscle-bound and tongue-tied by fear. They were walled-in by their apprehension. They huddled together because the one they had loved and followed ended up on a cross. For them it appears that the dreams and the hopes of the three years together were firmly nailed to that cross too.
In the midst of this perplexity, the Risen Christ visited them and said “Peace be with you” and as John recorded it, “at the sight of the Lord, the disciples rejoiced.” They were changed utterly. With the breath of the Spirit, Christ broke down the walls that imprisoned them, the closed doors that locked them in. He freed them from fear and sent them out on a mission. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” The apostles were sent out with the same mission with which Christ was sent to earth by the Father. For twenty centuries up till our own day today, that mission has not changed. If anything at all, it lives on and continues to echo more and more in the midst of all our cultural heritage and contemporary life. It is an abiding and immortal mission and challenge.
Today we too are like the disciples. We live in a world gripped with fear and anxiety. Many people live behind closed doors, barred windows and in fact behind closed minds. What is the level of our faith? Today, most of us depend, for our certainties on calculations, charts, graphs, figures and measurements. We seek to concretize everything to tangible realities and produce formulae and propositions that can be microprocessed for future reference – at our finger tips. We wait, like Thomas, to see and touch.
The other disciples described the first appearance of Christ with vivid detail: the locked doors, the familiar voice of the Master greeting them with Shalom, the nails marks in his hands, the pierced side, the breath of forgiveness. But for Thomas seeing was believing; what he saw was not very convincing. After all, if Jesus really had risen and had appeared to the disciples, why were the doors still locked? Why were they still hiding in the closest and not out there in the streets proclaiming the good news?
Thomas’ absence was providential. For if he were not absent, would we have been granted today’s magnificent scene? This is what Saint Thomas had to experience that night, along with other similar things which were personal. For we do not have to know all the graces that God offers to such and such a person: that concerns only God and the person to whom God addresses himself… But when Saint Thomas placed his finger in the wound of the Saviour, did he not experience a tangible proof of the Love of God and of His Infinite Mercy? How would he have confessed the divinity of Jesus with such faith and such love without having been powerfully touched by the Love of God in person? When man touches God, through faith, God touches man through His Infinite Merciful Love.
I dare to say that perhaps what Thomas lacked was not faith in God but faith in the people around him. Thomas had no difficulty in believing Jesus. “My Lord and my God” he spontaneously cried out. But he did have a problem believing in his companions. Thomas wanted more than words; he wanted signs. And so, it goes for us as well today.
I think we owe Thomas a great deal. We cannot just sit back and proclaim – “Christ is risen, Alleluia.” Yes indeed – “We are the Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song” as Pope John Paul II said. However, there is much more to this. Our faith is being challenged. We are demanded to show the fruits of the faith we profess to have in the Resurrection. How do we live our faith today: as a painful duty or as a joyful privilege ?
That is the challenge of Thomas that you and I who claim to believe should make our everyday lives more convincing. For while it is important that we should show our appreciation to Christ by our presence at Mass, it is even more important that we should let His presence be real in our lives. For if the Risen Christ is to be seen in this world, it is through us and in us that doubters will have the closed doors of their minds breached. It is through us and in us that they will see Him and touch Him and be touched by Him in return.
That is what that first community did for those disciples who came much later after Jesus. They showed one another their faith and they supported each other. We need to do that. We need, also, to be as the community described in the Acts of the Apostles — which was long after Thomas’ own experience with Jesus. The roots of all that they had become were right there on that Easter Sunday night and a week later too.
Luke describes it so well – they were a communion of people. They had broken down the barriers that so easily separate people – barriers of class or wealth or race. They had broken down all those barriers and were a communion of disciples, living together for one another.
Of course within any community, even within a family, there are times when you hurt one another, and so it is so important to reach out and forgive. And beyond our community. You will never have peace without forgiveness. And so it is our task to carry that.
And that is something else that we need to do. As a community of disciples of Jesus, we need to strengthen our bonds with one another, to reach out and to draw other people in with us, and breakdown all those barriers that keep people apart. But it is also in our smaller community that we need to have that spirit of forgiveness; always being ready to forgive, to be forgiven, and to be willing to admit our need for forgiveness. May be the first thing that we should measure for ourselves is how well we do on forgiveness and reconciliation.
When Jesus came to the disciples, gathered together his community, the first thing He said to them was “Peace be with you.” It is beautiful. In spite of all His suffering and the terrible things that happened to Him, He is deeply at peace and He was sharing it with them. He wanted them to build peace within their community and beyond that community and to carry peace into the world. He gave them the gift of forgiveness.
It really is a great blessing. Jesus’ forgiveness is given to us, but as then we forgive others we are set free. So the expectation if we are really going to be faithful as disciples of Jesus is that we reach out to forgive. If someone has hurt us, we do not wait for them to come back and ask for forgiveness. We go, just as Jesus went to those first disciples and forgave. How quickly that would build up our community as a real community of faith and love and joy and peace and how effective we would be in spreading that to the world around us.
As we continue to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection, Christ himself comes to deliver us from our states of fear and anxiety. His greeting to us is “Peace be with you.” We cannot afford to continue to live behind closed doors and closed minds. The risen Christ comes to call us out of our little world to reach out to others in love, in forgiveness, in fellowship and reconciliation.
This is our calling – “As the Father sent me so am I sending you.” The apostles were sent out to all the world, to announce the Gospel of Peace. How are we carrying on that mission today beginning from our hearts, in our relationships, in our fellow men and women and in the different aspects of our contemporary life and culture ?
How is this true in our world today? Are we Christians also part of what the Pope described as “the spread of a worrying ‘culture of death,’ seen not only in the fratricidal wars that continue to cause bloodshed in many parts of the world and in forms of violence that harm the weakest, but especially in attacks on unborn life and on that of the elderly and the terminally ill” ?
Christ became man, He died, was buried and He rose gloriously to win for us life, life in abundance (John 10:10). As a result of this, our life is no longer bound up with this world alone. In the words of Paul to the Colossians, we have been raised up to be with, and now the life we have is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-4).
And we can learn much from this incident about Thomas. We learn how important it is to be part of a believing community. You see, that is one of the things that really saved Thomas. He came back to his friends, his fellow disciples, and he discovered that they had experienced Jesus being alive again. Their faith was very strong because it had been supported by being able to see Jesus transformed. So, Thomas came back and had the same experience. He drew faith and strength from his brothers and sisters in that community.
And so we celebrate that and pray that God will help us to continue to be a believing disciple; believing in the peace that we experience and that we can share within our world. God offers this to us and it is up to us to open ourselves to receive this gift and to share it with all our brothers and sisters.
In a few moments from now, shortly before communion, we shall offer one another the sign of peace and at the end of this celebration we shall be commissioned to go in peace. As we encounter Christ in our Eucharist today, let us go with the courage, strength and hope of His Spirit.
Let us go in that peace, not only to look for signs of faith like Thomas, but endeavour to become such signs to one another. “Peace be with you all.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Ordained a deacon Divine Mercy Sunday 2018
Lord Jesus have mercy and save us