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2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER: DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY (Cycle B)

Readings:
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: God's Divine Mercy
The Catholic Church has been celebrating this feast since the Vatican made it official on April 30th of the Jubilee Year 2000.  Divine Mercy Sunday always falls on the second Sunday of Easter and is the result of the promise Jesus made to St. Faustina for complete forgiveness of all sins and punishment for those sins on this day.  Jesus told Faustina: "Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment" (Diary of Faustina, 300).  It is the perfect time for fallen away Catholics to return to the Church.  But to receive Holy Communion one must be in a state of grace and without serious sin; therefore, someone who wishes to return to full Communion with the Body of Christ must go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation first to be forgiven his/her sins.  In Faustina's diary she recorded that Jesus also promised that He will be there in the confessional ready to embrace the sinner with His love: "When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you.  I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul.  Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.  Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust.  If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity" (Diary of Faustina, 1602).

We are reminded of God's mercy as we announce with confidence and joy three times in the Psalm: "His mercy endures forever."  We are encouraged in the First Reading to be like the first Christians who were of "one heart and one mind." And St. John tells us in the Second Reading that it is God's love in Christ Jesus and the sharing of that love with each other that has made us God's children.  In the Gospel Reading we remember Jesus' first visit to His Apostles after His Resurrection.  He came to them and lovingly revealed Himself to them, showing them His wounded hands and side.  They rejoiced when they saw the Lord and He gave them His peace.  This is the same way He comes to us in the Mass.  We hear His words in the Liturgy of the Word and He reveals Himself to us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, giving us His peace that surpasses all human understanding so that like St. Thomas we might declare "My Lord and my God!"

The First Reading Acts 4:32-35 ~ The Early Christian Community in Jerusalem
32 The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.  33 With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.  34 There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, 35 and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

This is the second of three summaries describing the character of the Jerusalem community (see Acts 2:42-47 and 5:12-16).  In addition to centering their religious life on the teachings of the Apostles and the Eucharistic liturgy (2:42), they also developed a system for the distribution of goods in which the wealthier members of the community sold their possessions when the needs of the community's poor required it (2:44; 4:32-27).  The members of the community were living according to Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26 in which Jesus' taught that the wealthy have the obligation to use their wealth to take care of the poor.

In this passage, St. Luke describes the community of believers as being "of one heart and mind," which can also be translated "of one heart and soul" (verse 32 "mind/soul" = psyche).    In the Old Testament the phrase mia phyche (one soul) only appears as the translation of the Hebrew leb yahad in 1 Chronicles 12:38 LXX, but the phrase "heart and soul," is found frequently, for example in the command to love God with all one's heart and soul in the first part of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5 and also in 10:12; 11:13, etc.  This concept of the unity of the community as of "one heart and soul" is later expressed by St. Paul as being one Body in Christ (i.e. Eph 1:22-23; 4:12, 15-16).

33 With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.  The message for faith communities today is that everything about the message of the Gospel of salvation must begin with the resurrection of the Christ and then all other actions of the community will then unfold in grace and truth.

Responsorial Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 ~ The Lord's Goodness
Response: "Give thanks to the Lord for his is good, his love is everlasting" or "Alleluia."
2 Let the house of Israel say, "His mercy endures forever."  3 Let the house of Aaron say, "His mercy endures forever."  4 Let those who fear the LORD say, "His mercy endures forever."
Response:
13 I was hard pressed and was falling, but the LORD helped me.  14 My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.  15 The joyful shout of victory in the tents of the just:
Response:
22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  23 By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.  24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.
Response:

This is the last of the Hallel Psalms ("Praise God" Psalms) of 113-118.  These psalms were recited or sung during the great feasts including during the liturgical service when the Passover lambs and kids were sacrificed, during the sacred feast of the Passover on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread after sundown, and during the other pilgrim feasts of Pentecost (Weeks) and Tabernacles.  The series of psalms called the people to remember God's great works in the Exodus liberation, and Psalm 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving from the covenant community who praises God for His mercy in rescuing His covenant people and speaks prophetically of the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah, the "cornerstone" of the New Covenant who is Christ Jesus (see Acts 4:11; 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20 and 1 Pt 2:6-8). 

The Second Reading 1 John 5:1-6 ~ The Victory of Faith
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him.  2 In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.  3 For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.  5 Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  6 This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.  The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.  

St. John writes that the way one can identify the "children of God" is not only by their love for others (4:7-9; 5:2) and their love for God the Father and God the Son (5:1), but also by their belief in the divine sonship of Jesus Christ.  It is a belief that is demonstrated by obedience in love to God's commandments (verse 3).  This is the source of the Christian's power over the world and victory over evil (verses 3-5).  Water and blood in verse 6 is a reference to the water of Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:16-17), and the blood is a reference to Christ's precious blood when He offered up His life on the altar of the Cross (Jn 19:34).  The Spirit was present at Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32-34) and Jesus breathed out His Spirit upon the earth when He exhaled His last breath (Jn 19:30).  It is God the Holy Spirit who testifies to the Christ and it is He who is the answer to Pilate's question when he asked Jesus, "What is truth?"  The Spirit who testifies to the Christ is the Truth.

The Gospel of John 20:19-31 ~ Jesus Appears to the Apostles
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."  20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."  24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."  But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."  26 Now a week [literally = 8 days] later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."  27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."  28 Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"  29 Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

It is Resurrection Sunday.  The "even time" of the day is toward the close of the day.  The next day for the Jews begins at sundown, so evening is in the mid-to-late afternoon.  The time is probably about 3 PM, the time of the third hour of prayer.

The Apostles are afraid and hiding behind locked doors because the Sanhedrin may arrest them for blasphemy just as they condemned Jesus.  He comes to them supernaturally.  Locked doors cannot stop Him.  Jesus' greeting to the disciples is the customary greeting of the Jews.  These are the very words the Priest uses, as he stands in "persona Christi", in the Person of Christ, as he greets the congregation. 

In His greeting, Jesus has reassured the Apostles, who must have been feeling ashamed of their conduct after His arrest, and He has lovingly reestablished the intimacy they had previously enjoyed with Him.  He shows them His wounded hands and His pierced side because showing them His wounds dispels any impression that they are seeing a ghost or imposter.  They are truly seeing the risen, glorified body of Jesus Himself. 

Then Jesus makes a statement that will change the status of the Apostles in the world:  21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."  This is the ordination of the Magisterium of the Church, and He is sending them with the power and the authority of God the Father.

"Receive the Holy Spirit ..."  In the Greek text the article is missing.  Some scholars suggest the missing article indicates that in this case Jesus' breath was not the giving of the person of the Holy Spirit, as they would receive with the rest of the New Covenant Church at the Feast of Pentecost 50 days later, but was instead an "effusion" of His Spirit.  In Hebrew and in Greek the word for "breath" is the same word as "spirit."  God first breathed His Spirit into Adam to give him physical life and now Christ breathes His Spirit into the Apostles to give them spiritual life.  He is sending them forth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will make all things "new" again just as He did in the first creation.  The prophet Ezekiel envisioned this day when he wrote of the Messianic restoration of Israel: He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man.  Say to the breath, 'the Lord Yahweh says this: come from the four winds, breath; breathe on these dead, so that they come to life!' I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army" (Ez 37:9-10 NJB).  Man, formally dead to sin has been resurrected in Christ and this faithful remnant of the Old Israel has become the nucleus of the New Israel, the New Covenant Universal [catholic] Church that will become an immense army of disciples converting the world through the spread of the Gospel.

23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.  The Sacraments of the Church are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace.  In verses 22-23 Jesus is instituting the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation).  Under the Old Covenant the sinner placed his hands on the animal, confesses his sins before the priest, and the animal died in his place.  Now Christ is the Lamb of sacrifice but we still must have confession and repentance before sins can be forgiven and communion with God restored.  In verses 22-23 the priests of the New Covenant carry the Son of God's authority to forgive or retain sins.  The concept of private confession of sins has never been a part of the sacramental system of the Old or New Covenant.  Even though it is a healthy spiritual practice to confess our shortcomings to God in our daily prayers, it is necessary to bring those venial sins [unintentional sins] before the Lord in the Penitential rite of the Mass in order to receive forgiveness, and any mortal sins must be confessed to an ordained priest of the New Covenant Church, who is a successor of the first ministerial priesthood in Christ, to whom we confess as though we are confessing to Christ Himself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Jesus is the physician of our souls and our bodies.  He both healed the sick and forgave their sins and He has willed His Church, in the power of God the Holy Spirit, to continue His work of healing and salvation.  In this sacrament the sinner places himself before the merciful judgment of God who heals and purifies hearts and souls.  CCC#1422: "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."  Also see CCC# 1423-1498.

So you may ask the question, how do we really know Jesus meant for us to confess to a human priest and not just to Him?  You will agree that in verse 22 in speaking to the Apostles Jesus has given the Church the power to forgive individual sins and the power to retain individual sins.  How can the Church exercise this power to make decisions about particular sins unless those sins are openly confessed to Christ through His priesthood?  We have to specifically confess specific sins!

24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."  But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." 
Here John refers to the "Twelve" as a "perfect unity" of Apostles and indeed, after Jesus' Ascension the Apostles will choose another to replace Judas and the number will be a unity of "Twelve" again.  Poor St Thomas is always remembered for this remark which must have come from his discouragement and his fear.  He seems not to be remembered for his courageous statement in John 11:16 when he declared he was prepared to die with Jesus; and he would die for Jesus.  According to the history of the Church, Thomas was martyred at the altar of his Church in India.  He had faithfully carried the Gospel to what was then the end of the earth!

How many times have we been guilty of the same unbelief when we reject the teaching of Mother Church in favor of secular values and morals?  How many Catholics in government have stated that Church must be separated from State and since the law of the land allows abortion how can they stand against it?  Do they need to see the nails in His hands?  How many of us question the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the perpetual virginity of His blessed mother...do we need to see the wound in His side?  To believe in the name of Jesus Christ is to accept all that He taught and to be obedient to the teaching of His Church.  There is no such animal as a "liberal Catholic". Liberal and conservative are political terms.  There are orthodox, true doctrine Catholics, or there are bad Catholics.  Catholicism is not a cafeteria style religion.  It is an all or nothing religion.  Place your finger in His wounds and like Thomas cry out "My Lord and My God!

26 Now a week [literally = 8 days] later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."  27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."  28 Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 
It is 8 days from the previous Sunday as the ancients counted without the concept of zero-place value; it is why we count the number of days Jesus was in the tomb as three days (see verse 19).  It is the next Sunday.  Sunday is both the first and the 8th day.  The number 8 in the symbolism of numbers represented salvation, regeneration and redemption.  It became the number of the New Covenant people.  All early churches were built 8 sided; this includes the early church that was formed at Peter's house in Capernaum and all the Byzantine Churches of the 4th-6th centuries.  Whenever archaeologists find an ancient foundation that has 8 sides they know they have found a Christian Church marking a holy site associated with Christ.

Jesus' entry into the room similar to His entry a week earlier. He did not use the doors to enter.  This testimony proves that Jesus was not prematurely pronounced dead and later revived.  He is not bound by the laws of physics!  The literal Greek "become not unbelieving" gives us a better sense of Thomas' spiritual condition.  He had not yet fallen into unbelief, but his doubt about the Resurrection put him in danger of falling into unbelief.  What you believe matters!

Thomas responds to Jesus' challenge by acknowledging Jesus as His Lord and God.  The literal translation is "the Lord of me and the God of me."  Both Peter and Thomas knew how to humble themselves and to repent.  Judas was lost because he would not repent and return to Christ.  Thomas' profession of faith is one of the strongest statements affirming the deity of Jesus in Sacred Scripture!

29 Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." 
In Hebrews 11:1 it is written that Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.   Thomas' faith would have had more merit if he had accepted the testimony of the other Apostles instead of the exceptional proof he received through seeing and touching Jesus' wounds.  St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the preaching of Christ" (Rom 10:17).  It is that same preaching of Christ that is passed from the Apostles down to us in the Church today.

But what is our obligation when receiving this testimony passed by the Apostles to their successors and down through the centuries to us?  When we accept that testimony we must not only believe but we must practice what we believe.  Jesus' statement "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" is a benediction our Lord has pronounced on all the future generations of believers!

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
There are other signs are not recorded in this book but in the other books of the Synoptic Gospels.  The use of the word "signs" has been a major theme of this Gospel.  Jesus performed supernatural acts that had greater significance beyond the miracle.  Each miracle was a sign that pointed to a theological truth and John has built his Gospel around 7 theologically significant public signs that point to Jesus' divinity and His claim that He is the Messiah:

The Seven Public Signs of Jesus in St. John's Gospel:
#1  2:1-11 The sign of water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana
#2  4:46-54 The healing of the official's son
#3  5:1-9 The healing of the paralytic
#4  6:1-14 The multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5,000
#5  9:1-41 The healing of the man who was born blind
#6  11:17-44 The raising of Lazarus from the dead
#7  20:1-10 The Resurrection of Jesus

Jesus performed 8 miracles in John's Gospel, 6 of which are not recorded in the Synoptic Gospels.  The 8th miracle is a private revelation for the Apostles when Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calmed the storm.  Jesus' final, and most significant public "sign" of His divinity is of course, His Resurrection, the key event of Christian faith.

Why is Jesus' Resurrection the key to Christian faith?

  1. It is the fulfillment of His promise that He would rise from the dead, therefore verifying that everything He told us about Himself is true: He is the eternal Son of God.  We can be confident, therefore, that He will accomplish everything else that He has promised. 
  2. Jesus' bodily Resurrection provides us with the evidence that He is the living Christ, not just a false prophet, or a ghost, or an imposter, but that He is the ruler of God's eternal kingdom.
  3. We are assured of our own bodily resurrection.  Death is not the end—Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life.
  4. Jesus' divine power that has brought Him back to life is now available to us to supernaturally by bringing our spiritually dead selves back to life in Christ.
  5. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for the Church's witness to the world that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He can fulfill all He has promised!

"Finally, Christ's Resurrection, and the risen Christ Himself, is the principle and source of our future resurrection: 'Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep...for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.'  The risen Christ lives in the hearts of His faithful while they await that fulfillment.  In Christ, Christians 'have tasted...the powers of the age to come' and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may 'live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised'" (CCC# 655).

Catechism References:
Acts 4:32 (CCC 952, 2790); 4:33 (CCC 995)
Psalm 118:14 (CCC 1808); 118:22 (CCC 587, 756)
1 John 5:1 (CCC 2780, 2790); 5:6 (CCC 1225)
John 20:19 (CCC 575, 643, 645, 659); 20:20 (CCC 645); 20:21-23 (CCC 1087, 1120, 1441); 20:21 (CCC 730, 858); 20:22-23 (CCC 976, 1485); 20:22 (CCC 730, 788, 1287); 20:23 (CCC 1461, 2839); 20:24-27 (CCC 644); 20:26 (CCC 645, 659); 20:27 (CCC 645); 20:28 (CCC 448); 20:30 (CCC 514); 20:31 (CCC 442, 514)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015