28 Apr – Divine Mercy Sunday
The Congregation for Divine Worship decreed in 2003 that “throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, wit confidence in divine benevolence, the difference and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come”. Devotion to the Divine Mercy was promoted by St. Faustina Kowalski, canonized 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
The faithful all used to meet by common consent in the Portico of Solomon. No one else ever dared to join them, but the people were loud in their praise and the numbers of men and women who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily. So many signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles that the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds and sleeping-mats in the hope that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past. People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and all of them were cured.
My name is John, and through our union in Jesus I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure. I was on the island of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus; it was the Lord’s day and the Spirit possessed me, and I heard a voice behind me, shouting like a trumpet, ‘Write down all that you see in a book.’ I turned round to see who had spoken to me, and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands and, surrounded by them, a figure like a Son of man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a golden girdle.
When I saw him, I fell in a dead faint at his feet, but he touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld. Now write down all that you see of present happenings and things that are still to come.’
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
I’ve always found it unfair that among the disciples, Thomas is given the nickname ‘the doubter.’ Sure, he did say that his belief was conditional on being able to dig his hands into Jesus’ wounds, but we would do well to remember that this was a man who just days before, had witnessed his Master being beaten to a pulp, disfigured and then die excruciatingly on a Roman cross. Who could blame him then, if his first reaction to the claims of Jesus’ resurrection, was that He would believe Jesus was alive when he saw him alive?
Furthermore, the proof that Thomas had asked for was nothing more than what the other disciples had themselves experienced. John records that when Jesus appeared to the group of disciples sans Thomas, it was only when he showed them his hands and sides that the disciples rejoiced “because they saw the Lord.” So, if Thomas was a doubter, the other disciples were no better. They were simply at the right place at the right time. No amazing feat of faith there.
So why did the John’s Gospel single Thomas out?
I think the clue lies in John’s statement of intent at the end of the passage: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
If John’s goal in writing his gospel was that his readers would come to believe in Jesus, what good does highlighting Thomas’ skepticism do? Why plant a seed of doubt in such an important moment in history?
Unless for John, in that kernel of doubt lies the potential for strong and true faith. For what is doubt but faith that is suffering from malnutrition? And what is unbelief but faith that has been mistreated and destroyed? Yet unbelief and doubt in the Christian understanding is not the same thing. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, nor is it the same as unbelief. Doubt is a state of mind suspended between faith and unbelief so that it is neither of them completely and it is each partially. It is caught between a desire to believe and a desire to negate. The prayer of the father with the possessed boy describes this state well: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”. (Mark 9:29)
From this perspective, far from being a disciple of inferior stock that Jesus chided, John holds out Thomas for us as a model of how one becomes a disciple of Jesus. In other words, what happens to Thomas is exactly what John hopes will happen to each of us when we read his story.
Thomas is neither naïve, nor a fool who accepts every wild claim and seems to require no evidence whatsoever for his beliefs. In that, he represents many people today who approach things realistically and with varying doses of skepticism. If we have an understanding that true faith is doubt-free, then not only does it lead to a view of faith that is unrealistic for many today, it also results in a view of doubt that is unfair. The phrase by Anselm of Canterbury, which has become a classic definition of theology, is worth repeating here — “faith seeking understanding.” This means that faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ often awakens an investigative search for deeper understanding. Is it not true then that doubt is not an obstacle of faith but an essential ingredient in it?
Thus, when ‘doubting’ Thomas did finally encounter the Risen Jesus, his reaction was evidently more profound than the other disciples. Not only did he declare Jesus as ‘my Lord’, a title reserved for the Roman Emperor – but also “My God,” – the highest affirmation made of Jesus in all the Gospels.
At the end of the day, it is not enough to believe that Christ is risen just because others have said so. The Apostle Thomas reminds us that true faith comes from the desire to search and encounter the Risen Lord for ourselves.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)
Prayer — O Risen Lord, I find it difficult for my heart to rejoice in what my mind rejects. Give me a hunger and desire to search out for You. Let me know you and love you so that I may rejoice in you.
Thanksgiving — That your Word promises “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13