Sunday Homily – April 19, 2020

Second Sunday of Easter, Cycle A (Sunday of Divine Mercy) by Fr. Claude Perera

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
The first community of Christians that cared for one another prays together and its membership increases

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 118:2-4,13-15,22-24
God’s love is everlasting.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
The new hope that Jesus’ resurrection has brought

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31
Doubting Thomas wants sense-verification to believe in Jesus.

Homily

On this Second Sunday after Easter we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy. I thought it appropriate that we go into the Biblical idea of mercy in the OT and the NT.

The Semitic root rch(k)m refers to deep love usually of a “superior” for an “inferior” rooted in some “natural” bond. It is the deep inward feeling we know variously as compassion, pity, mercy and tender love. This root is frequently used of God in 2 senses: The first, the strong tie God has with those whom he has called as his children (Ps 103:13). God looks upon his own as a father looks upon his children; he has pity on them (cf. Mic 7:17). The second is that of God’s unconditioned election (Ex 33:19). God tells Moses that he is gracious and merciful to whomever he chooses (Ex 33:19).

But people also must repent in order to receive his compassion (Deut 13:17; 30:3). God’s harsh judgment are geared at repentance (Is 9:17; Is 27:11; Hos 2:4). But God’s continuing mercy and grace sometimes preserves his unrepentant people from judgment (2 Kg 13:23). Psalmist speaks of his undeserved relief due to God’s tender mercies and grace (Ps 103:4). It can also refer to a father’s love. It is most easily prompted by small babies (Is 13:18) or other helpless people. God may show Israel’s enemies such feelings of compassion (Wis 12 -14). The Psalmist confesses his love for Jehovah (Ps 18:1 [H 2]). When repented, he reinstates his father-son relationship and father-like compassion, for example, making them return from the exile (Hos 2:23; Zch 1:12).

Isaiah 49:15 uses it of a mother’s love toward her nursing baby. Hebrew root rech(k)em/rach(k)am designates the womb or the maiden (Jr 20:17; Job 10:18). There is an e2ssential motherly and feminine dimension of compassion. The Greek verb sphlangnizomai is related to sphlangnon, meaning ‘bowels,’ ‘womb,’ ‘heart,’ ‘kidney,’ or ‘lungs.’ So, the verb racham or ‘having mercy’ means a gut-level or deep feeling for someone in need leading to effective action. We see this constantly associated with gospel miracles.

Gospels made use of this verb a few times (Mt14:14; 20:34; Mk 6:34; Lk 15:20). Our English texts translate it with “and he had pity” or “and he had compassion on the multitude” etc. Etymologically, as I showed above it was a gut-level feeling as a result of seeing people’s physical, psychological and spiritual needs. This was essentially a forging love. The forgiving love Jesus extended to doubting Thomas in today’s gospel is a wonderful instance of this mercy of Jesus. We are called to do the same.

Pope Francis I beautifully captured this in his first Bull of Indiction, Misericordia Vultus, meaning, Jesus Christ the Merciful Face of the Father.  The Latin word for mercy is misericordia. It is made up of two words, the Latin “miseriae” meaning, ‘misery’ and “cor” or “cordis” meaning, ‘heart.’ It depicts the nature of God’s mercy, namely, that he condescends into our misery and redeems it.

Jesus’ mandate at the last supper was, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” (John 13:15). Jesus’ example of showing mercy needs to be imitated of his followers. The first Christian community did that. You heard it in the first reading of today. “And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.” (Acts 2:44-45) This means that there was sharing and among them and there was no one in need. Isn’t this the primary model of socialism from which Karl Marx would have drawn inspiration? Yes, most likely.

Popes of the past 2 centuries have spoken enough about it. But is this ideal of the Early Christians a reality in today’s world. The global socio-economic structure is pyramidal one where the affluent nations decide on the destiny of the poorer ones. Sharing becomes only the sharing of the surplus. Around 1.85 billion people, or 36% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty. Nearly half the population in developing countries live on less than $1.25 a day. This grim reality was not the kind of life of sharing which Jesus lived and demonstrated. We are confronting a serious decision as individuals and as nations. What is our response to Jesus today?    

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