FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Reflection for April 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter (C)
Sunday of the Divine Mercy
Acts 4:32-35 | Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 | 1 John 5:1-6 | John 20:19-31
Although Easter Sunday was a week ago, Easter is far from over. Easter season is a 50-day period from Easter to Pentecost Sunday (which is May 28th this year). Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter. On this Sunday of the Divine Mercy, we listen to reminders that even though we have not seen Christ, we nonetheless are filled with joy as we place our belief in his resurrection and unending mercy.
Russell, 10 year-old boy, entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. Nida, a waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is a cookies and cream sundae?” Russell asked. “₱40.00,” replied the waitress. Russell pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins he had. “Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream sundae?” he inquired. By now, more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing very impatient. “₱30.00,” she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said. Nida brought the plain ice cream sundae, put the bill on the table and walked away. Russell finished the ice cream sundae, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry. As she wiped down the table, there placed neatly beside the empty dish was ₱70.00. You see, he couldn’t have the cookies and cream sundae because he had to have enough money to leave her a tip.
The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles presents a summary of the life of the very first Christian community, which was formed in Jerusalem. The author emphasizes that they “were of one heart and soul”. Belief in the resurrection compelled them to care for others. They feel responsible for their poor brethren by having less or nothing. "There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need." The community was living Divine Mercy. They met each other’s needs through mutual aid by prioritizing the common good above personal wealth. This was a concrete witness to the power of the resurrection faith at work in the human heart.
San Miguel Parish strongly disapproves of drinking alcohol. It started a prayer campaign to prevent the bar across the street from expanding. Construction of the bar progressed right up till the week before the grand opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. After the bar burned, the parishioners were rather proud in their attitude about "the power of prayer" until the bar owner sued the parish on the grounds that it was ultimately responsible for the demise of the building, through their prayers. The parish strongly denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, "I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and an entire parish that doesn't."
The key to the process of not physically seeing but believing is the notion of "witness." Many who had not seen the risen Jesus are drawn to the community of faith-filled believers. The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles presents a summary of the life of the very first Christian community, which was formed in Jerusalem. They meet every week to pray and break bread together. The community addressed by the apostle Peter in our Second Reading, has “never seen him [the Christ]” and yet they love him and are filled with inexpressible joy. Peter teaches that life in this world inevitably includes trials, tribulations, and even persecutions. The trials and tribulations of the present life can be endured successfully if they believe in the resurrection and eternal salvation that awaits them in the future.
At the entrance to Church of All Nations or the Basilica of the Agony, next to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, there is a sign warning every visitor: “NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH.” The sign is intended to discourage over-talkative tour guides but it’s also what Jesus practiced after his resurrection. No explaining or blaming. He simply wished his apostles peace and forgave them. It is shameful to admit for the apostles that they abandoned their Master in his darkest hour in the garden of Gethsemane. Everyone deserted Jesus and fled on the night before his crucifixion. In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears in the midst of his apostles who are locked up, hiding, and afraid. Imagine seeing the man who you knew was brutally crucified to death and who you had completely abandoned— standing in your locked room looking better than ever! The apostles must have died of embarrassment upon seeing Jesus again. It is no surprise that the first words Jesus says to them is “Peace be with you.” If I were him, my first words to them would have been “Shameless! Y'all left me just when I needed you most." Jesus could have said that and have been right for doing so, but he didn’t. Mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve. It is something that is only freely given, a gift.
A mother once approached the tyrant emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France, seeking pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed theft twice, and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I beg for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” the tyrant emperor replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” Napoleon said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.
Jesus knew the apostles would fail. He knew they would abandon Him. But He didn’t hold their sins against them. In fact, thanks to the Lord’s Divine Mercy, their failures became a source of strength from which they could draw to help others receive Christ’s forgiveness, too. Not only does Jesus forgive them, he now makes them the normal instrument of his forgiveness to the world. Jesus breathes on them and says to them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Christ has entrusted the ministry of Reconciliation to his apostles, to the bishops who are their successors, and to the priests who are the collaborators of the bishops.
Dr. Reginald, a well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a 1000-piso polymer banknote featuring the Philippine eagle. In the room of 200, he asked. "Who would like this ₱1000 bill?" Hands started going up. He said, "I am going to give this ₱1000 bill to one of you - but first, let me do this." He proceeded to crumple the ₱1000 note up. He then asked. "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air. "Well," he replied, "what if I do this?" He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. "Now, who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air. "My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth ₱1000. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way but God refuses to give up on us. As Pope Francis teaches, "God never tires of forgiving us. It’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." When we fail, we don’t need to get discouraged. Jesus, the Divine Mercy, can make us whole again, if we go to Him and ask for forgiveness, confess our sins, receive Communion, forgive others as he has forgiven us, and then keep going back to the Lord again and again for strength. The Risen Christ, his church and his forgiveness are not just abstract ideas we believe in. Truly risen, Jesus establishes a real church with real people and a real means to bestow Divine Mercy by means of the sacraments.
Father, your mercy is so great. You surprise us with your love for us who don’t feel worthy of it. Thank you that we can draw near you through our devotion to your Son's Divine Mercy. Have mercy on us and change our hearts so that as we receive your love and forgiveness always, may we also extend it to others in your name. We pray this trusting in the name of Jesus, our King of Mercy. Amen.
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Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum