2nd Sunday of Easter (B)
Divine Mercy Sunday
Not Like The Others
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 117:2-4,15-18,22-24; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
One of these things is not like the others;
One of these things doesn’t belong;
Can you tell which thing is not like the others,
By the time we finish our song?
Sisters and brothers, I think at least some of us will recognise these words. They’re taken from a song that was often sung on Sesame Street, that popular educational TV show for children. Typically, as the song was sung, a collection of objects would be displayed. Usually four of them. Three would be similar, and a fourth would be different. The children would then be asked to identify the odd one out. One of these things is not like the others... Can you tell which one...
The song was very helpful for teaching children to notice similarities and differences. It helped them to identify the things that belonged together, and the things that didn’t. To distinguish the same from the different. A very useful and important skill. But there is something that the song does not teach. Something just as, if not more, important. After helping us to identify the thing that is not like the others, the song doesn’t tell us what to do about it. How should we relate to the thing that is out of place? The one that doesn’t belong? The odd one out?
And yet it is crucial that we consider this question, isn’t it? Especially in our world today, we often already know, far too well, how to distinguish what belongs from what doesn’t. We’re already highly skilled at telling apart the same from the different, the insider from the outsider, the master from the servant, the conservative from the liberal, the local from the foreigner, the friend from the foe. What is more, the world also constantly teaches us to relate to what is different–to what seems out of place–in one of only two ways. From a very young age–from the time we gather with other kids at the neighbourhood playground–we already learn, very quickly, that when we meet people who may be even a little different from us, we should either exclude them from our group, or bully them into becoming exactly the same as us. We may make fun of how someone speaks, for example, until the person learns to talk like us. Exclusion or oppression. Discrimination or intimidation. This is often what the world teaches its children. And, of course, what is learned at the playground, we continue to practice later on in life. As much in the office as at home, as much within pious church circles as amid the busyness of the global marketplace. People with difficult marital situations, for example, may get talked about behind their backs. Just as poorer nations might have unfair trade agreements imposed upon them in exchange for aid.
Either exclusion or oppression. These are the two different reactions that the real world presents to us on a regular basis. Both are expressions of hostility. And both often lead to a similar result. They bring about violence of some sort. Either the obvious violence of open conflict, or the hidden violence of passive aggression. Both estrange people in some way, whether one from another, or within each individual self. Yet, despite their tragic consequences, we often can’t seem to avoid either of these two options. When faced with people who are different from us, we often can’t seem to react in any other way. We either exclude, or we oppress. Nothing more. Nothing else.
Which is why it may be difficult to believe what we find in our first reading today. Here is a group of people so united, heart and soul, that its members go to the extent even of selling their possessions in order to help those who are poor and in need. To those whose situations are different from the rest–to the vulnerable and the disadvantaged–the early Christians react not with exclusion or oppression, but with great mercy. Could this really be possible? If so, how? How did these Christians manage to go beyond the limited options proposed by the world? The false alternatives of exclusion and oppression?
The second reading tells us how, by reminding us that it is our faith that enables us to overcome the world. When we truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, when we commit ourselves to living his commandment of love, then we are transformed. We may remain in the world, but we are no longer of the world. We are reborn. We begin to relate to others no longer purely out of self-interest, but mainly out of love. We no longer exclude or oppress those who may be different from us. Instead, we show them mercy. The same mercy that we ourselves first receive from Christ, who laid down his life for us on the Cross. Or, as the second reading puts it, the Christ who came not just by water, but also by blood. The same blood into which we have all been baptised. And of which we will partake at this Eucharist. It is faith in this blood of Christ, faith in the mercy of God in Christ, that is capable of transforming us.
And this very transformation is what we witness in the gospel today. Here, among the disciples, Thomas is the odd one out. He is the one who doesn’t quite belong. The others have already encountered the risen Christ. But Thomas has not. The others have already received the post-resurrection gift of faith. But not he. And it is helpful for us to consider carefully how Jesus deals with Thomas, the one who is different from the rest. The Lord does not drive him from the upper room. Neither does he bully him into submission. Instead Jesus meets him where he is. Peace be with you, the Lord says. Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe. Rather than exclusion or oppression, Jesus wins over the one who doubts by showing him great mercy. And it is only after having experienced this mercy, that Thomas is then ready to be sent out, like the others, to show mercy to others. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you... those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. As the Lord says, in another context, it is those who have been forgiven much, who show great love (see Luke 7:47).
Sisters and brothers, in many different ways, the world continues to encourage us to exclude and to oppress those who may be different from us. But through our faith, we have been given power to overcome the world. This is the gift of Easter. The grace to show others not hostility, but mercy. The mercy that we ourselves continue to receive from the crucified and risen Lord.
Sisters and brothers, on this 2nd Sunday in Easter, as we celebrate the feast of the Divine Mercy, it is likely that we will encounter people who are not quite like all the others, people different from us, people who somehow don’t seem to belong. How will we show them mercy today?