14 April 2016
"Peace" not "Really?"
Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy)
I have a niece, and another niece or nephew due to be born in mid-April. And one of the big things for families that I have come to experience in my own family are the big firsts: the first tooth; the first crawl; the first solid food; and the first word. There are probably countless comedic scenes about moms and dads trying to get the little child to say mama or dada first, as a sign of which parent is the best.
So it is interesting that Jesus’ first word to His apostles after He rises from the dead, in both the Gospel according to Luke and the Gospel according to John (which we heard today) is: peace be with you, or shlama amkhon in the Aramaic Jesus would have used (a phrase which is still used in some Eastern Catholic liturgies). After all that Jesus had gone through, and all the most of the apostles had not been through with Him, Jesus chooses to say: peace. What a merciful response! Even if we weren’t mad, how many of us would’ve said something like: “where were you?”; “why did you abandon me?”; or maybe just “really?”
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we rejoice in God’s mercy, which flows from the piercèd side of Jesus. We rejoice that Jesus, whom we have crucified with our sins, does not say, “Where were you?” or “Why did you abandon me?” or even “Really?” Jesus gives us His peace.
And if we rewind 6 chapters to John 14, when Jesus was speaking to the apostles, again in the upper room, on the night of His Last Supper, we hear more about that peace. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Jesus’ peace, the peace of heart, peace of mind, is the peace that comes from God’s mercy being showered upon us. It is not simply the worldly notion of peace: the cessation of violence. It is a wholeness and integrity of God with us, and we with God. It is a right ordering of our souls and minds and body, as well as with our neighbors.
But that mercy is not something that we put in a bottle on a shelf. It is something that is meant to be shared. Immediately after giving the apostles His peace, Jesus also says, “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Jesus’ mercy, God’s mercy, Divine Mercy, is meant to be shared with others, just as the Father shared Jesus with us. In fact, in encountering us, others should encounter Jesus, and His mercy, just as St. Thomas did a week after the Resurrection.
What is mercy? Mercy is God’s love. In Hebrew, they word chesed can be translated as mercy and as love. The Psalm we heard today is one example of this: chi leolam chesedo: for his mercy endures forever. It is the way God shows His love for us. Otherwise, it would have be judgment, not mercy. Instead, the justice of God for sin fell upon Jesus, so that we could receive the mercy of God, which is offered to us as long as we are alive. Our sins, as St. Faustina reminded us, as a drop in the ocean of God’s mercy.
But mercy does not call wrong right, or ignore it. Neither ignorance nor rationalization is mercy. Instead, mercy recognizes that there is a debt to be paid, but does not demand its payment. Mercy acknowledges that good has been rejected, but returns an embrace when a punishment could have been dealt.
We see mercy in one of Jesus’ last acts before He died. St. Dismas, the Good Thief, admits his sin before Jesus as they both hang on the cross. But then asks the unthinkable: for mercy. And Jesus responds, “‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” One of my favorite readings from the saints is from a sermon by St. Maximus of Turin, a bishop, which reads, “And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. […] Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?” May we never despair of God’s pardon, God’s mercy, God’s peace, but acknowledge our sins, confess them in the Sacrament of Penance, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries, in anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.