In the post-resurrection narratives as recorded in the Gospels, the one disciple that probably stands out above the rest is Thomas, called the Twin. It is not that the other disciples were not important but Thomas will be remembered as the one who doubted the resurrection of Jesus – in fact, Doubting Thomas has since become a proverbial term. He was one who was not about to believe the words “We have seen the Lord” that were told to him by the other disciples. He wasn’t ready to be deceived or even delusional. He wanted evidence and how could one believe fully in the risen Lord without having seen Him. For that very reason, Doubting Thomas will be remembered forever.
Though we may laugh at Thomas’ incredulity, he plays the important role of a bridge between the two resurrection appearances that we hear in the Gospel today. Some may ask why wasn’t Thomas at the first gathering with the other disciples? Was he afraid and sad? Was he ashamed or perhaps even fearful of being associated with this group that had rallied around Jesus during His ministry? No one will know and there are no answers to that found in the Gospels.
We may ridicule but the importance of Thomas in this narrative is both pivotal and symbolic. While the first appearance to the disciples represents those who had seen Jesus and believed, the second appearance is intended for those who have not seen Jesus but believe in the testimony of others and put their faith in Jesus. In fact, Thomas represents the second group of people. It is only in this encounter that Jesus will say, “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe” – a statement that will bring credulity to believing in Jesus in the years that follow. That is why Thomas should not be remembered for having doubted but rather he was called to believe on the testimony of others.
If the second appearance of Jesus elicits a profession of faith from Thomas when he cries out, “My Lord and My God”, then in the first appearance Jesus extends the power of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. In this context, it is primarily for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus then commands His disciples to be ministers of divine forgiveness – seems like great authority has been placed on them. Just as Jesus had been the embodiment of God’s mercy throughout His early life, the disciples now are going to be the channels of God’s mercy in the risen Lord.
Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday and this feast is a beautiful reminder of the love of God demonstrated through His mercy to all. During His earthly ministry, Jesus forgave sins and reconciled people with God on numerous occasions. Those who experienced His forgiveness and reconciliation felt liberated – not only from the slavery of sin but also from being isolated by the community. In this season of Easter, more than other times, God’s love and mercy is revealed through Jesus and today in the divine mercy of Jesus, our Lord and God.
The Church must be the doorway to God’s mercy and that is why Pope Francis says that “there is no Christianity without mercy. If all our Christianity does not lead us to mercy, we are on the wrong path, because mercy is the only true goal of every spiritual journey. It is one of the most beautiful fruits of charity [love].”
Just as Thomas would have believed if the risen Jesus fulfilled his conditions, the mercy of God that we pray for also comes with a condition and that condition is found in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”(Matthew 5:7). If we want to experience God’s mercy, we must be merciful towards others – you and I know how difficult that can be sometimes.
The mercy that Jesus talked about is more than just showing pity. When Jesus said to the Jews, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13), He was saying to them to get involved by showing love, forgiveness, grace, and compassion to be persons who feel for one’s neighbour. Each time Jesus healed the sick, the crippled, the blind and even when He drove out demons, Jesus did so because He felt their pain and their need of God’s mercy.
One may ask how can I share God’s mercy with others? Apart from the works of mercy prescribed by the Church, the first thing that we can all do is to stop judging one another. We do this most times and that becomes a hindrance for us to experience God’s mercy. I once read these words… “Judging others is easy because it distracts us from the responsibility of judging ourselves” and I think there is truth in these words. If we stop judging others, then we have time to remove our own obstacles. When we can clear those obstacles, we experience God’s mercy and naturally, His mercy will flow through us to others. Let us on this Divine Mercy Sunday that we may be merciful towards one another just as we expect God to be merciful towards us. Blessed Divine Mercy Sunday everyone.
Divine Mercy Sunday (11 April 2021)