Divine Mercy Sunday (2nd Sunday of Easter). Bible Study: Acts 4:32-35, 1st John 5:1-7 and John 20:19-31

“He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:22-23) 

After reflecting on our readings for today’s mass, I became so overwhelmed with shame that I didn’t feel like writing any homily. 

In our first reading, we are told that the whole group of those who believe were of one heart and soul. Dear friends, does this oneness still exist amongst us today? Aren’t we still carrying grudges and bitterness against our fellow Christians? In this group of believers, no one considered his possessions as his own but today, we would see a brother or sister suffering and even when we have what it takes to help that person, we say (in pidgin): “wetin concern me?”

St. John tells us in today’s second reading: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Given that it was this oneness and love among the early believers that merited them the name “Christian”, we have to face the fact that there is a difference between a “church-goer” and a “Christian.” If we are not behaving like Christ, aren’t we simply church-goers?

Coming to our Gospel passage, despite all that was done to Jesus, despite the fact that His disciples fled from him at his hour of trial, Jesus appears to them and the first thing He says is: “Peace be with you.” The question I have been asking myself is: “If I was in the shoes of Jesus, what would I have done?” Obviously, the answer to this question lies in a similar one: “How have I treated those who have offended me in the past?”

Jesus had the chance to totally squash to pieces all those who treated him badly yet, He did not even wait to rise from the dead before He began his campaign of forgiveness. Right on the cross, Jesus said: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). As if this was not enough, eight days after Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to his disciples saying: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus not only forgave all those involved in his death, He went all the way to create the Sacrament of Penance; empowering his disciples with the power to forgive sins, thereby making it so easy for us to obtain forgiveness from God. No wonder, today, (eight days after Easter) is called Divine Mercy Sunday. It is the day that God showed the depth of His mercy on the whole world. It so happened that Jesus appeared to St. Maria Faustina instructing her that a Feast of Divine Mercy be celebrated on this very day. This brings us to our lessons for today:

1. His Mercy Endures Forever.

As our Psalmist today sings, we must “Give praise to God, for He is good and His mercies endures forever.” In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we praised God to give us the grace to understand the nature of the FONT in which we have been washed, the SPIRIT in which we have been reborn and the BLOOD through which we have been redeemed. When Jesus was pierced on the cross, there came out blood and water flowing from his side – this is the very image of the Divine Mercy. Whenever you gaze at this picture, remember Jesus on the Cross offering you unlimited pardon and mercy. 

As Archbishop Akubeze noted during the Divine Mercy Pilgrimage Mass, at times, we tend to assume we can place a limit to God’s forgiveness by refusing to go to confession or by assuming that through frequent confessions, we are taking God’s mercy for granted. Dear friends, know this: there is no limit to the forgiveness of God. “No matter what your past has been, you begin anew.” God’s mercy endures forever.

2. Mercy is the Cure for Restlessness.

Looking at the action of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, we cannot but agree that there is a connection between peace and forgiveness. Twice Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you.” Basically, Jesus was saying to them: “I forgive you” and “I forgive you completely.” We cannot wish peace for those who have hurt us without first forgiving them. On the other hand, we cannot have peace if we fail to forgive. Are you troubled within you and lacking peace of mind? Why not forgive and forget the offences of those who have hurt you today?

3. In Confession, It is God Who Forgives Sins.

Just after declaring peace upon the disciples, Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” then He proceeded to give them the power to absolve or retain sins. Just as God breathed on Adam at creation thereby giving him life, Jesus breathed on the disciples thereby giving them an extraordinary power to do something only God can do. At confession, the priest is only able to absolve us of our sins by the power of the Holy Spirit which Christ breathed on his disciples on this occasion. 

4. If we Receive Mercy, We Too Must Give Mercy.

The truth is that if we who claim to be followers of Christ cannot forgive, then we are no different from the unbelievers. According to Bishop Godfrey Onah, “If our enemies succeed in making us hate them, then they have conquered us completely. For Christianity without love, including the love of the enemy, is empty. And a Christian without that love might as well be of any other religion.”

Mercy goes beyond forgiveness, it is stepping into the shoes of others, being able to feel their predicament and coming to their help. The early believers were able to live in peace because they practised compassion for one another. Share the little you have. Remember: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that, you do unto me.” (Matthew 25:40).

5. Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen And Yet Believe.Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared and when he was told, he said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). The fact is that most of us Christians are just like Thomas. We have told ourselves that unless we see miracles happening (unless we see and touch Jesus) we would not believe. There are many who have completely turned their backs on God because they felt disappointed like the two disciples who turned their backs from Jerusalem and were heading to Emmaus.

Just as Jesus appeared again and showed Himself to Thomas, Jesus has never stopped showing himself to us through the ordinary events of our lives which we often take for granted. If only we learn to count our blessings rather than constantly complaining, we would see that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, melt my heart and teach me how to be merciful. Amen.

Happy Easter. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.