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St. Thomas the Apostle understood Divine Mercy, and he wanted to make sure that the Risen Jesus the Apostles claimed to see was the real Jesus.
To understand the power of this Sunday, Easter Sunday II, Year A, or Divine Mercy Sunday, we have to understand what Thomas did about the tragedy of sin in our life and the power only God has, to forgive sins.
Think of how shocking what Jesus did was.
Imagine a badly wounded man just back from a battle telling you, “This is how the victory is won. As the general sent me, so are you now sent.”
This is exactly what Jesus Christ does for the apostles. He comes back from the crucifixion still bearing his wounds and says “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.’”
But what does it take to forgive sins? They had just seen it. It takes the cross.
When we sin, we offend God. When he has mercy on us, he does not simply shrug his shoulders and say “Forget about it.” Justice must be paid — and Jesus Christ paid for us.
It is easy to see why justice must be paid if we look at the case of notorious sinners. We cannot imagine Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden coming before God only to be greeted with a grin and a “don’t worry about it.”
But we can also see it clearly in our own lives. When someone takes what is ours, we don’t want them to say “sorry,” we want them to give it back. We know that this is how our mortgage company, car seller and the IRS work. What is owed must be paid.
In our relationship with God, everything we have is a gift from him; we owe it all back. If we use our possessions, our talents, and our will to insult him, or to put his will at a lower priority than the demands of our pride, vanity and pleasure or the requests of the devil, our infraction cannot simply be shrugged off.
What is owed must be paid. The beauty and joy of Divine Mercy Sunday is only made possible by the horror and sorrow of Good Friday.
Thomas’s doubts shows that he understood what it takes to forgive sins.
Thomas said, “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.”
Thomas knew the cost of mercy. He refused to be fooled by a fake Christ. He wanted the one who had suffered and died for him.
Today we are grateful for Divine Mercy, but we do not thank Jesus for overlooking our misdeeds and deciding to give us a pass. We thank him for the marks of the nails and the spear. We thank him for standing in our place to pay what is owed.
When Jesus stood before the High Priests and Pilate and was accused of crimes that deserve death, he did not defend himself. He could not defend himself, because he was guilty. He made himself guilty of our sins. “Demons did not crucify him,” said St. Francis, “it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”
Think of how horrifying that is. God gave us everything we have, and we gave it to the devil for cheap thrills. Jesus responded by taking on the crushing burden of our betrayal, a burden so great that it made him sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, and cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from the cross.
Then he sacrificed himself so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our actions after squandering his gifts. What was owed must be paid, and he paid it. That was the Christ Thomas that caused Thomas to say “My Lord and my God!” He should have the same effect on us.
The first Christians understood how to behave after that.
The first reading shows how human beings can respond with selfless love to Christ’s selfless sacrifice. It describes what life in the Church is to this day:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles,” that is, to the magisterium, “and to the communal life,” life in a parish, “to the breaking of bread,” the Eucharist and other sacraments “and to the prayers,” daily conversation with God. They also held all things in common, giving generously to others as they had received generously from God.
In the second reading, Peter reminds us that joining our own pain to the payment Jesus made for us is also part of the deal:
“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.”
These are people who understand what has been done for them and want nothing more than to live according to the mercy they were shown. To live that way is the thanks that Jesus wants.
Image: The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Carvaggio, Wiki-media.