2nd Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday
Mercy that Penetrates
Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Revelations 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31
Sisters and brothers, there’s a well-known holy picture – you’ve probably seen it or heard of it – of Jesus standing by a closed door. With one hand, he is holding a lighted lamp – it is night – and with the other he is knocking on the door. And if you look closely, you will see that there is no doorknob on the outside. The door can only be opened from the inside. And that’s probably the whole point of the picture. If we want to be with Jesus, if we want to enjoy his company and receive the blessings that he brings, we must first be willing to open the doors of our hearts and our lives so that he can enter. After all, can we expect him to open the door for us if there is no doorknob on the outside? What do you think of this picture?
There is some truth to it, of course. There are times in the gospels, for example, when we are told that Jesus could work no miracle at a particular place because the people there had no faith. The doors of their hearts were firmly closed to him. So Jesus could not enter. And a scene like the one in the holy picture is also described in Revelation 3:20. Here the Lord says, Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Clearly, then, if we want Jesus to help us, we must first open the door to him, right?
And yet, isn’t it also true that many of us here, myself included, have probably experienced how difficult it is sometimes just to unlock the door of our hearts, let alone to open it fully? Take for example when we are badly hurt by someone, perhaps a friend or a relative. We know we are supposed to forgive. We know that not only is it unchristian to continue to bear a grudge, but that it is also bad for us. We become sour and unhappy people. We become slaves of our own anger and resentment. We may even get tension headaches or ulcers as a result. But still, much as we want to, we can’t seem to forgive. Every time we look at the scars left by our enemy we are overwhelmed by a fresh wave of anger and self-pity and perhaps even the desire for revenge. What to do? Can even the Lord who rose from the dead at Easter help us if the doors of our hearts seem to be so firmly shut and locked? And if the Lord can’t help us and we can’t help ourselves are we doomed? Should we simply give up our struggle?
If we are to believe the message in our readings today, then the answer is a loud and resounding, No! Consider the experience of the first disciples in the gospel today. This story of the doubting Thomas is one that we know well. We often use it to congratulate ourselves for being the ones who are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe. But what if we do find it hard to believe? What if, try as we might, we can’t seem to open the doors of our own hearts? What happens then? This very same story provides us with guidance and reassurance.
Perhaps the first thing that jumps out at us is how the risen Jesus appears to the disciples. On two occasions we are told that the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were and yet the power of Christ was such that he was still able to come in and stand among them. And isn’t it true that the closed doors of the room are only external signs of the disciples’ closed hearts? We’re told that they had hid themselves in the room for fear of the Jews. They had lost hope in the message and mission of Christ their Master. Fear had closed their hearts to hope. And yet, Jesus comes among them, he enters their hearts and transforms them.
To the fearful and the distressed, Jesus speaks a word of reassurance and calm. Peace be with you. To the doubting Thomas, he offers his wounds and scars as proof of his rising. The same wounds that caused so much pain and suffering and even death, now take on a new meaning. They become the way by which faith and hope and love are strengthened. Doubt no longer but believe!
And Thomas does believe. As do all the other disciples. Empowered by the Spirit that the risen Jesus breathes onto them, their belief leads them to do what they were unable to do before. They fling open the doors of their prison and throw themselves into the mission that Jesus gives them. As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you. They go out to preach and to heal in the name of Christ. And, as we heard in the first reading, many signs and wonders were worked at the hands of the apostles. This is a stunning demonstration of the awesome power of the risen Christ. This is a power that is able even to penetrate closed doors and to transform fear into courage, weakness into strength, doubt into faith.
Are we not being reminded then that the power and the faith that we need even to open the doors of our own hearts is not something we can produce for ourselves? Isn’t this why it’s so appropriate that we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today? This power that we see in our readings and that we need to experience in our own lives is nothing less than the mercy of God for us in Jesus Christ. It is this mercy that moves God to reach out to us in our need. It is this mercy that penetrates the closed doors of our hearts so that we too may learn to show mercy to others. It is this power for which we must all pray even as we may continue to struggle to open our hearts to the Lord and to one another.
Sisters and brothers, how is God’s mercy penetrating us today?