Friday, April 25, 2014

Where's Tom? A reflection for Mercy Sunday

Thomas touching the wounds of Christ            
        The Gospel text for the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31) is rich with  meaning. I wonder though if the question has ever been raised as to why Thomas doubted.  Was he simply week, or is there another explanation ? I believe that
Sunday's First Reading (Acts 2:42-47)  though not related at all to the story of Thomas, provides an answer to that question.  That text tells us that the community was one in celebrating the breaking of the bread and in sharing all things in common.  Community life is a key element of Christianity.  I believe that Thomas doubted simply because he was apart from the community.  He wasn't there to witness the wonderful action of Jesus who broke through walls to be present to disciples gathered in fear.  Who wouldn't be skeptical when told that story?

   Let's take a look at what happens.  They are huddled out of fear of the Jews.  (Just an aside--the word Jews in John's Gospel may never be construed as a basis for antisemitism because it does not refer to all Jews, but rather the leaders or temple authorities.  After all Jesus and the disciples were Jews themselves.)   Jesus breaks through the walls of fear as I mentioned above.  He then sets in  motion what I call the great tsunami of mercy and compassion.  Those disciples may not have been filled with joy right away.  Why?  Because they had all bailed out on him on Holy Thursday evening.  But what does Jesus do?  Does He chastise them?  No.  He breathes on them and sends the Spirit upon them giving them the power to forgive sins in His name.  By this very action he is telling them that they are forgiven.  He is showing mercy to them but telling them to share that mercy with others.  This is why I use the image of the tsunami.  The tsunami is not just a big wave like we might see off the coast of California or Hawaii.  It is also a long wave, pushing water along for miles.  That is why it is so destructive.  Jesus' tsunami of mercy is not destructive.  it is a life-giving wave that lifts up and renews everything in its path.

    Thomas had missed out on this.  He's incredulous when he hears about it, but he returns a week later and he too is not chastised but invited to touch the wounds which are the source of this great gift of mercy.

    What then are we to learn from this.  I think that there are several lessons.

   1.  It is difficult to maintain faith when we are cut off from the community, the Church because it is in and through that community that mercy, love compassion and grace are dispensed.  Don't get me wrong. I'm not denying that God can and does act on the lives of individuals outside of that community, but rather that when we are isolated we are so often blinded to God's presence.  In the community which touch the wounds of Christ when we encounter the suffering of our brothers and sisters and when we then see how the Lord forgives sin and heals suffering.

   2.  In our Catholic tradition the conferral of the power to forgive sin is the basis for our belief that this ministry is exercised in  a special way by priests in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I pray that we can continue to renew the use of this Sacrament and the manner in which it is celebrated.  In my own experience as both a priest and penitent this Sacrament, when used properly is a great way to encounter the merciful and compassionate Christ.

  3.  Let us never forget that the great tsunami of mercy is passed on not only through the sacramental dispensing of mercy but also when you and I become more merciful people, not only forgiving those who have wronged us but also being more merciful towards those with differences, towards those we disagree with, etc.  This is a point that Pope Francis models so well for us.  He is not changing Church teaching on various matters but telling us that mercy, rather than harshness, is the best way to draw other to Christ.

   4.  The million dollar question then is, "Are we conduits of mercy who let the love and compassion of Christ flow through us?  Or, are we constantly building sea walls that stop the flow?  We know that we can't stop it, but if we try it will flow around us and leave us behind.

     Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy.

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