Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and put your hand into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Words from our Gospel today from the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Think about this statement: “Justice is fulfilling… but mercy is transformative (2x).” On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I want to share with you a story from my own life on the transformative power of mercy. I was in 7th grade, and although I had a small, good group of friends, and did respectably well in school, I wanted something more. As kids are wont to do at that age, I compared myself to others. Many of us still compare ourselves to others no matter what age we are. My classmates seemed to be more athletic, smarter than I was, better at different activities, and more socially adjusted, and if that were not enough, some of them were good at letting me know how inferior I was as I faced ridicule and some bullying at times. I wanted the attention and acceptance that they seemed to enjoy. And so, one day, as the school day was drawing to an end, our teacher, Mr. Hariaczyi asked me to do something and I talked back to him in front of the whole class. Honestly, I don’t remember what he asked of me, nor do I remember the vulgar words I chose to use, but I do remember the reaction of the class: “ohhhhhhh!” So, I knew that I had succeeded. I got the attention that I wanted. For that moment, I felt as confident and also as inflated as everybody else seemed to be. So, Mr. Hariaczyi gave me one of these (come here gestures) to come to his desk. He would have been within his rights to give me detention. He could have called my parents or sent me to the principal. He could have given me a good talking to. For someone in authority who did not receive the respect that he deserved, at the very least he could have demanded that I apologize to him for what I said. All those things would have been rightly fulfilling, would have been just. But do you know what he said to me? He said, “Remember, Luke, you are one of the good kids.” That was all that I needed to hear. He saw through my motivations, understood and accepted me for who I was, affirmed the goodness he saw in me, and offered me mercy. And you know what? I never felt like I had to act out in class again. Yes, there are times when I get angry still, or say things I regret, or look for unhealthy attention. But to that point in my life, I was feeling small and belittled which led in turn to bad behavior, but then I was accepted and loved and empowered to be good all because my teacher went beyond the limits of justice to deal with me in mercy. Mr. Hariaczyi helped to transform the warped path that I was beginning to go down to bring about something greater in my life. Justice is indeed fulfilling, but mercy is transformative.
After visiting the empty tomb that Easter morning, Peter came running back to the Upper Room to tell the rest of the disciples the news. He said to them, “I have some good news and some bad news.” “What’s the good news?” all the disciples asked. Peter responded, “The good news is that Jesus has been raised from the dead.” “What’s the bad news?” “The bad news is that he wants to talk to us about last Friday.” Maybe that’s the real reason the doors were locked in that upper room. What God went through that Friday on the cross could hardly be called justice, could hardly be called fulfilling. Instead, God forgoes the debt and literally absorbs the cost. Indeed, you only have to look at the wounds in his hands and feet and put your hands into his sides of the risen Christ to know what such superabundant love has cost our God. The resurrected Christ still bears the wounds of suffering, his experience remains a visible part of his body forever. There is a cost to mercy – and the mercy of God, the salvation of the world was purchased for us at the greatest cost of all. Now certainly, this says something about how much we are worth to God, and how valuable and precious we are in God’s eyes, each and everyone one of us. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, there is wisdom to the prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet that begins, “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” For the sake of his sorrowful passion… We can’t just write off Jesus’ suffering on the cross as: “he died for me; so now, I’m good and free…” Let us never forget there are nail marks in the resurrected Christ, otherwise we’ll make that grace cheap, and we’ll fall into old habits, and commit the same sins again and again, the very same sins which Jesus died to free us from. Thomas reminds us of this as he demands to see the wounds of the risen Christ.
And yet, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in the upper room in our Gospel today with these marks on his body, did he want to talk about last Friday? No. He came into the upper room and greeted the apostles there with a sign of his peace: “Peace be with you.” Though he would have been right to do so, God goes beyond the limits of justice to deal with us in mercy. “Peace be with you,” he says. After all that has happened and all we’ve done, God proves that his love is a merciful love, not based upon anything we’ve done. God’s mercy towards us is unconditional because it is based upon God himself who is love and simply loves. Moreover, in the resurrection of Christ, God’s mercy towards the human race brought about the greatest transformation that the world has ever known, as eternity is opened up to us and we receive new hope and life in his name. Did we not say that mercy is transformative? With the words, ‘peace be with you,’ our entire situation is changed and relationships are restored. God proved that he could and would love us through anything, that his mercy could overcome everything whatsoever, even our sins, and the wounds we inflict on each other, and abuse, and wars, and pandemics and suffering and even death itself. Justice is fulfilling; mercy is transformative.
Hence, the Divine Mercy image St. Faustina presents to us in her vision today, a Christ with two streams of light a red one and a white one… one for the cost of love borne for us all and the other for the abundance of merciful grace – they indeed flow together with each other. That is what happens at every Eucharist – Jesus offers himself up to us in love that we may be transformed by his mercy. When I return to the presider’s chair after communion, I often pray in my heart the two prayers of the Divine Mercy chaplet centering upon God’s gift of mercy which we have just celebrated: “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world, so, for the sake of his sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It is special that I could pray this prayer and truly offer the Eucharist for us all. And I think herein is found the beauty that underlies our whole devotion. God’s mercy isn’t just for us alone, each person for themselves. God’s mercy in Christ is meant to transform all the world. That is what St. Faustina wanted us to know. She would be thrilled that we are devoting ourselves to God’s mercy, but the main thrust of her saintly life, and Jesus’ mission too, was indeed to share God’s mercy with others. In this upper room, like the disciples of old, may we also be sent by the Lord to go and transform someone else’s life. Receive the holy spirit, start forgiving one another, and discover for yourselves: justice is fulfilling, but mercy is transformative.