Poor Thomas. Of course, what is he known as to everyone? Doubting Thomas. The guy followed Jesus faithfully during his public ministry, he witnessed the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he preached throughout Syria. You know when missionaries went to India in the 2nd century, they found that there were Christians already living there…because of St. Thomas! He was responsible for building what is now the world’s longest-standing Christian church. And what do we remember him for? For doubting Jesus, of course. You mess up once, and your friends never let you forget it. Today’s Gospel, though, has less to do with doubt and faith, and more to do with Thomas getting a second chance. Remember, he wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared. I don’t know what he was doing – maybe he was afraid, or maybe his alarm didn’t go off and he slept in. Whatever the case, Jesus appeared to the disciples again, and to Thomas with them, to give him a second chance. Think what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t given him that second chance. He’d simply be a man in Palestine, living with his parents, doing whatever he did before Jesus came along.
Today we read this particular gospel about this post-Resurrection appearance to the disciples, including Thomas, in the context of this second Sunday in Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. What is mercy? St. Thomas Aquinas said that mercy was “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him.” Simply put, mercy is a second chance. It’s out of mercy that Jesus appears again to the disciples, and specifically for Thomas. It’s mercy that drives Jesus to call them not to be unbelieving, but to believe.
If I’m honest, Jesus’ reaction is not the one I would have. When he appears in their midst, the first thing Jesus says is, “Peace be with you.” These are the same guys who ran away time and time again – in the garden, on the way to the cross, at the foot of the cross. I’d probably be more inclined to roll up my sleeves for a beat down and say, “Where were you? Why didn’t any of you stand up for me? You were supposed to be my friends!” Either that, or I just wouldn’t show up in their midst at all. And honestly, that’s what they would probably deserve!
I think in the midst of this Gospel, we struggle to understand two virtues. Justice is that more natural reaction that I was just talking about. It’s to give to others as they deserve, to put things straight. This is a good thing, right? Justice is one of the cardinal virtues. That’s why if someone steals your car, they’re punished – not out of revenge, but out of the justice of setting things right again.
On the other hand though, what Jesus shows us today isn’t justice – it’s mercy. Justice is a cardinal virtue, which is something that we strive for simply because it’s part of the natural law that’s written on everyone’s hearts. Mercy or charity, on the other hand, is a theological virtue – something that we can only receive from God, and which we can only imitate by God’s help. So if we think it’s not natural that Jesus doesn’t yell at his disciples, or that he doesn’t accuse them or reject them the way they rejected him, we’re right! It’s not natural. It’s supernatural. The gift of mercy from God is something completely and utterly otherworldly, because it only comes from a God who is love.
There are only two people in the world who know the complete truth of what we deserve in justice – ourselves and God. Only we know our weaknesses to the greatest extent. Only we know how unworthy we are to have the spouse that we’re given for life. Only we know how unworthy you are to be mothers and fathers of such great children, or to be sons or daughters of such loving parents. Only I know how unworthy I am to be a priest. Only we know how unworthy we are to be Catholics. Only we know the extent to which in justice we don’t deserve any of these things. But like his appearance to those disciples huddled in the room, Jesus doesn’t come here with the hammer of justice, but with his gift of love and mercy. That’s why we pray that the mercy of God might be poured out on us at the beginning of Mass (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.), and why even 2000 years after his death and resurrection, a priest still sits in that little box in the back of church every Tuesday and Saturday. Christ is there to give us that second chance, just as he did St. Thomas.
We have all had that experience of the grace of God’s mercy – through the sacraments, through prayer, through being taught the Gospel of Christ. But there are many people around us who haven’t had that grace, or who have forgotten about it. I can’t think of anything that would please God more than if we all made the commitment to spread that mercy this week, even if just for a little bit. We’ve all had relationships that aren’t exactly marked by mercy. We all know of relationships that are marred by indifference and envy and resentment. And it’s tough to forgive others. But remember why you love them, and know that love is about forgiveness and mercy. You can give up all hope of a better past. Even Jesus didn’t go back and change the choices that his disciples made on the day of his Passion. But have the hope of a better future. I have been at the bedside of quite a few people who are dying, and it’s interesting that none of them ever says, “I wish I’d stayed angry longer.” They generally say one of three things: “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” or “I love you.”
As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today, take the opportunity to both experience and imitate the great mercy and love which God has for each of us, unworthy as we are. As we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist, the ultimate gift of God’s mercy, I invite you to listen to these words, spoken by Christ to St. Faustina, and to reflect on them in your heart today. “There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted-it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I myself take care of it.”