The church celebrates divine mercy on the Second Sunday of Easter in part because this Sunday’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ gift of the Spirit to his disciples. He gave it along with a mission to forgive sins. The church exercises this gift especially in the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation, but these sacraments are not the only source of divine mercy. God’s forgiveness has cosmic scope, as an insight from Raymond Brown, S.S., reminds us: “These [baptism and penance] are but partial manifestations of a much larger power, namely, the power to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin” (The Gospel, XIII-XXI). The gift and mission Jesus gave in this Sunday’s Gospel entails a struggle to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin.
Every act of forgiveness is thus a battle against evil, a battle that one can hope to engage and win only in the power of the Spirit. Christ also warned his disciples that they held the authority to “retain” sins. Although his precise meaning remains unclear, his words might have been intended to warn them against withholding forgiveness. Vengeance, retribution and pitiless justice only amplify the power of sin, as the bearer of each new grudge acts in ways that inspire even more hate. In the very act of offering this warning, Jesus forgave his disciples for abandoning him and sent them out into the world not to avenge his death but to preach divine mercy, even to his killers. What sins could his disciple “retain” in the light of such an example?
Christ’s disciples today continue the Father’s mission of mercy. Too many of our brothers and sisters have lost themselves to hate, evil and sin. Our commitment to forgiveness and mercy is part of God’s plan to save them. “For God so loved the world that he sent his Son’s disciples so that whoever should believe in Jesus Christ through them might not perish but have eternal life.” (A reflection by Michael Simone, S.J., taken from America)
As we celebrate this “divine mercy Sunday” where have you experienced mercy in your life? Was it mercy given or mercy received? How did that mercy bring healing? Do you see how God’s hand is in your experience of mercy?