A Cycle – 2nd Sunday of Easter 20
1 Pt. 1: 3-9
I was in a reflective mood recently due to the death of a very good friend whom I have known for 45 years. Unexpected death has a way of reminding us of more than our own mortality for it also shows us how many times we failed to show our own love for others. My friend had a faith that was not lived in or involved with what we would call religious acts. Sunday Mass was enough for her in terms of a visible practice. When Jesus said unless we become like a child, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3) He could have added like Jan. She believed and trusted in the promises of God and it is that childlike behavior that we so desperately need to understand mercy.
Peter in his first letter based on his personal experience of forgiveness after denying knowing Jesus lays out for us a foundation for understanding and experiencing mercy. He never would have believed he would falter in his belief in Jesus. However, just hours before he denies knowing Jesus, Peter stood up and affirmed he “would die with Jesus rather than deny being his disciple” (Mt. 26:35). If you have never experienced mercy you are missing one of the great gifts of God’s grace.
To feel the arms of a loving God embrace you after you have allowed your self-serving weakness to motivate you to sin, is a powerful experience. Feeling God’s unjudging embrace opens the path to your heart, and it changes how you view yourself and God. This is the message Peter is desperate for you to understand and embrace.
Listen to Peter’s words, as I try to rephrase them in a way that even a child will understand them to be a promise. A promise that we can depend on and can expect to be fulfill. A promise of something we will receive comfort from now and will receive in the future. A promise that is made because we did something to earn it. Nor is it a promise that is dependent on something we must do in order to collect it. No, it is a promise made because we are His child, whom He desires to give the Kingdom.
Peter is exhorting us to embrace a simple truth which is we have by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ been given an inheritance. We have been named in His will to receive something that will never be withdrawn, never be voided by time. Nor will our inheritance be conditional based on something we must achieve or accomplish before we receive it. It only requires that we know of the promise and we are willing to accept it. That knowledge should have an impact on how we live out our faith. If we believe the inheritance is so great, then you would expect anyone receiving it to begin living in a manner worthy of the gift.
There it is, grace from a loving, compassionate, all powerful omnipotent God who is slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity, merciful and forgiving sin. The promise is not like a monopoly “get out of jail free card.” It means each time we fail, not once, not twice or even three times like Peter. Each time, every time, all the time the promise remains; mercy is ours every time we seek to encounter Jesus. This is a lesson Peter learned by his failure to trust God and sought to save his own life. God has repeated this promise constantly in the scriptures in story after story. However, we have become so intent on making sure we do not break a law, a command, or an expectation we have become blind to the gift of grace. All this means is we have become dependent on the law to define our right standing with God. Peter is telling us inheritance of fellowship with God is not earned by our ability to follow the law. It is given to us freely so we can overcome all the temptations, trials, and tribulations of life. The current pandemic, and social distancing is one of those times of trials. This is not God testing us, it is just life and life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, successes, and failures.
The point Peter is making is to understand mercy and living a life filled with the presence of God does not depend on how well we understand or practice our faith. It does depend on us acknowledging Jesus as Lord and savior. Thomas teaches us that lesson in today’s gospel. We need to do the things necessary to put ourselves in a position to encounter Jesus. We need to allow His words to move us to acknowledge Him as did Peter and Thomas.
Our faith is not dictated to or dependent on how we respond to circumstances good or bad. No, our faith is in the promises of God not by the things that challenge us to falter. Peter is telling us although we have not seen, we believe and that is to our credit. My friend Jan lived that kind of faith and although her past few months were difficult, her faith in God never wavered. She did not need to have her faith in God confirmed by anything other than the witness of the gospel.
What does it take for us to stop living a faith that depends on our own ability to be strong enough to follow the laws and rituals demanded of us? A faith dictated by adherence to laws only leads us believe we are only committing minor sins and thus we are not going to be punished. We should not be trying to avoid punishment. We should be living a life knowing Jesus death opened the floodgates of mercy to be poured upon us every time we falter. We do not have to earn a reward; we must live a life worthy of the reward that awaits us.
Peter tells us we have receive an indescribable and glorious joy when we believe in the promise of salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Can you feel Peters excitement as he wrote those words? He experienced the very thing the prodigal son felt. He experienced the very thing the woman caught in adultery felt. He experienced the very thing the Samaritan woman felt and the very thing those last hour workers in the vineyard felt. Mercy is an indescribable joy and freedom given to us by a loving God. It is undeserved, unmerited, and an unexpected gift given to us by a loving God who deemed “…equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phl. 2:6).”
Mercy is ours and all we must do to receive it is enter an upper room in your mind, pray and expect Jesus to stand before you, inviting you to touch him and to embrace him as Lord.