Second Sunday of Easter — Sunday of Divine Mercy

Reflection: Mercy is an action, not an emotion



What are we asking for when we ask for God’s mercy?

Because we use the word during the penitential rite in our Eucharist, we often think of the plea for mercy as a petition for forgiveness, but that’s not at all what the Scriptures tell us.

Not only that, but the word mercy (eleos in Greek) is nowhere near as common in the Gospels as we might think. While John never used the word, Luke might be its champion with about 10 references to the mercy of God and Jesus or the good Samaritan and the prodigal father. In today’s Scriptures, the only time we hear the word is in 1 Peter which praises God for showing us mercy by giving us new birth through the Resurrection.

What it comes down to is that mercy is an action, not an emotion. If we look to Luke’s human examples, we first see mercy was what the Samaritan did as he risked his life and put his goods at the service of a person in need. In the father and son story, the father practiced mercy by embracing his son and throwing a party for him. (Although the wayward son talked about sin, the father said absolutely nothing about sin or forgiveness — that was the role of the older brother.) Mercy is thus a concrete and generous response to another’s need. This leads us to ask what today’s readings tell us about divine mercy.

Today’s Gospel takes place on the evening of the day of the resurrection when Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples. Although classical artworks depict this scene with Jesus and the 11, there is no reason to assume that the group, like that at the Last Supper, did not include other women and men. John takes care to remind us that it was evening and the doors were locked. It was as if, after seeing Jesus’ empty tomb, the disciples had made a sepulcher of their own meeting place. They who had mourned his death had become like the living dead, ashamed of their cowardice, afraid, and unable to believe Mary of Magdala’s announcement that she had “seen the Lord” (John 20:18).

John tells us that Jesus came and stood among them. Earlier, Mary of Magdala had sought him. Now Jesus sought out the disciples. To Mary, he had said, “Do not cling to me … but go and tell my brothers ‘I am going to my Father and your Father.’ ” By saying this, Jesus handed over his mission, authorizing Mary as the first Christian apostle. Later, when he came to the disciples, the mission he handed over was more than a simple proclamation: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Whether in the garden cemetery or the locked room, Jesus’ appearances were not just revelations of the resurrection; they aimed at transforming disciples into apostles. Jesus expressed his active mercy by breathing into them the Holy Spirit, the vital principle of his own life. Jesus mentioned nothing of their failure to stand with him, rather, like the father who restored his wayward son as an heir, Jesus gave them his mission: specifically, a mission of forgiveness.

This tells us not only about mercy, but also about forgiveness. If we think about it, Jesus never focused on sin. He mightily criticized people who denigrated or excluded others, but sin was never his focus. For Jesus, acts of mercy restored people, empowering them to live the fullness of their potential. In the long run, that asks much more of people than simply being sorry for sin.

Where does this leave us on Divine Mercy Sunday? Peter seems to summarize it as he tells us, “Rejoice in the God who gives you new birth to living hope.” It’s too easy, almost egoistic, to dwell on our failings and feel sorry. The God who proclaimed that sacrifices “have become a burden to me” (Jeremiah 6:20) has no need or desire for our sadness, but beseeches us, “Let justice surge like a river” (Amos 5:24).

On this Sunday, Mary and the other disciples would probably tell us, “Be careful about asking for God’s mercy! It comes with the uncomfortable grace of a vocation.” After the Resurrection, the church is irrevocably called out of hiding and into mission. Pope Francis tells us to abandon fear of mistakes, but instead to fear “remaining shut up within structures … rules … habits … while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, can we be bold enough to ask for and act out divine mercy?

Reading 1

(Acts 2: 42-47)

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.
And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

R. Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love is everlasting.

Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love is everlasting.

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love is everlasting.

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love is everlasting.

Reading 2  

(1 Peter 1: 3-9)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


(John 20: 19-31)

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.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
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 nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week 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.”
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.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
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.