Several years ago, the Catholic Church declared the first Sunday after Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” This seems to me to be very appropriate since Easter is all about removing the barrier of sin which separates us from God. God’s plan for our restoration began as soon as Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise and that plan is was unfolded for us in the Old Testament. We learned from the prophets and from God’s word to us through them how we were to be restored through the sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb of God.
With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus during his baptism by John we find God’s plan coming to fulfillment. Today we see Jesus breathing on the apostles that same breath of the Spirit his Father breathed into Adam. In Adam that breath brought about physical life and now it will bring about a spiritual life through the transforming power of the Spirit at work in us. This act of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is to change us from sinners to disciples eager to proclaim the mercy and love of God.
Our problem is we just do not understand mercy. Our mindset tells us any wrong committed must be corrected and punished. We have a huge problem comprehending how someone could escape punishment after they have deeply wounded us. Mercy is hard for us to offer to anyone therefore we have a problem accepting how God forgives and dispensed mercy to us.
Mercy is more than pity or empathy. Mercy is more than simply sparing someone the punishment that they deserve. No, mercy is love’s response to betrayal, hurt, anger, pain, disillusionment, rejection and all the deep wounds of the heart. Mercy cannot be bargained for or purchased; it is a free gift from a loving God who desires to make us whole. When mercy encounters suffering, it always will seek to alleviate it.
Jesus said he came to show us the Father and his actions show us how God approaches mercy. When Jesus meets those suffering from hunger, he feeds them. When he encounters someone suffering from physical sickness, he heals them. He tells the leper who says to Jesus “if you wish you can heal me” and Jesus says of course I will heal you. In all the stories of Jesus we see that true mercy is not just something that impacts us in a superficial way and is soon forgotten. Instead God’s mercy is overwhelming and when received it brings about a radical change in us.
We must understand the root cause of all the wrong we do is our own selfishness and it is sin. Sin debases us, robbing us of our dignity, weakening and even severing our connection with God the source of our life. Sin is not just a wrong established by some arbitrary law; it creates a wound in us that can and does destroy our relationship with God. True mercy seeks to heal the wound in order to restore us to our right relationship with God.
Divine Mercy is God reaching out to us not only to eliminate the separation between us and God but to change us. It is the action we see in Jesus when he encounters the woman caught in adultery. Does Jesus punish her or make her perform some act of penitence? If that were so then to receive mercy we would have to perform some act to acquire mercy. Instead mercy requires us to humbly receive it and we see that in Jesus words to her when he said “I do not condemn you go and sin no more.”
Nothing is required of her or us except a change in how we live. When we are told our sins are forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus we have before us the same requirement to change in a way that brings us into a new relationship with God and with others.
Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians tells us that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. In this season of Easter Joy what a perfect time for us to go and be reconciled with that family member, that good friend, that relative that we have not spoken with in years. God said to us we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Divine Mercy has been given to us by the death of Jesus on the cross and we are called to die to self and to be dispensers of mercy to others.
We must understand that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is not an option for us who believe. However we can forgive without also extending mercy. If we are to call ourselves Christian then God expects us to be endless in offering forgiveness and mercy. It is then the floodgates of mercy will totally change us from selfish self serving individuals into disciples who give of self to help others find the Fathers arms.