Taste and see: Mercy, seed of mercy

Angel of Judgment and Mercy

The Gospel of the 2nd Sunday of Easter, ‘Divine Mercy’ Sunday, came from the Gospel of John.

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.
John 20:19-31

How do we understand the words of Jesus regarding the gift of the Holy Spirit, and his observations about the forgiveness of others?

Sometimes they have been understood in a narrow sense as referring to what would later be called the  Sacrament of Penance, and being addressed uniquely to the apostles (understood as being already ordained ministers).

Be that as it may, there is also a broader, existential teaching here.

Jesus gives us all, all who follow him and share in his life, the power to be merciful. We, his disciples, lay and ordained, have received mercy and forgiveness. And we are called to witness to this by our lives.

We can do this in words, or we can do this in the way we live.

For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

This is quite a challenge. The implication of Jesus’ words is  that if we do not share forgiveness, the forgiveness we have received, then it stops there, we lose our peace and we ourselves are not longer at one with the Lord.

The mercy, love, of God calls us on to find the freedom and trust in God’s justice, that we might (all) forgive sinners.

If we cannot forgive sinners, we might still find ourselves at one with all sorts of others – world, family, nation and all – even sometimes with the Church or at least with parts of the Church, but not at one with the Lord. Who comes with love and mercy for all.

Our exercise of mercy is only ever a witness to the Lord’s mercy: an echo of his mercy. And it contains with its gratuity the potential of inviting to a deeper conversion the one who is forgiven and shown mercy, In the light of love they receive a(nother) opportunity to be freed from all that confines and constrains and hobbles the human spirit.

But if we will not be merciful we rob them of that providential good.

  • When do you find it possible to forgive? What makes it easier? What makes it more difficult?
  • When do you find it possible to be forgiven? What makes it easier? What makes it more difficult?

Photograph of Angel of Judgment (or Mercy?) church in Cork, Eire. (c) 2010, Allen Morris


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