On the night before He died, Jesus washed His apostles’ feet and instituted the Holy Eucharist. In this, Jesus ordained these twelve men and gave them the power of Holy Orders to confect the Eucharist—that is, not simply to change water into wine, but the greater miracle: to change bread and wine into God Himself. Lest they let this divine grace go to their heads and they “Lord it over others as the Gentiles do,” Jesus gave them an example and washed their feet so that they may be like Him, one who humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave.
After receiving this great gift of the Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood, what did the Apostles do? They betrayed the One who gave it to them. They abandoned Him in His hour of need, fled from Him as they went to the Cross, afraid that they would be killed along with Him—all but one, of course: John, whose words we are reading in the Gospel today.
In the Gospel, we are just a day and a half removed from the crucifixion. The Apostles have gone back to the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper—perhaps to find solace in the last place where they were friends with Jesus—and have locked themselves in because of fear. It is here that Jesus enter the room, passing through the door as like a ghost, but able to be touched—as does Thomas, later. Jesus is really resurrected; once dead, but now alive.
It is here that Jesus could have revealed wrath, revenge, the sword, any number of resentful words for the Apostle’s apostasy. But, instead, He says, “Peace”… In this moment, Jesus manifests the power of the divine and that power is manifested in mercy.
And yet, it happens in the Upper Room and with those whom He has ordained. This is no accident. Jesus is giving them the second miraculous power of the Sacred Priesthood: the power to absolve sins. This is why He says:
As the Father sends me, so I send you.
Why did the Father send Jesus? To go in search for what was lost; to show the Father’s love for the Prodigal Son; to give mercy; to forgive sins. “For this reason I have come, not for the righteous, but for sinners.”
But notice: Jesus doesn’t give this power to the Apostles on Holy Thursday when He gives them the Sacred Priesthood. He waits—He waits until after Good Friday. Why? Because it is on Good Friday that the treasury of God’s grace is opened for sinners; only after it has been opened that the mission can now be given to the Apostles to dispense of this treasure.
Indeed, they must first themselves experience Jesus’ mercy. Hence He says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is forgiving them of their apostasy; and the Apostles, now having experienced Jesus’ mercy (as a new kind of Washing of the Feet) are sent “as the Father sends me”: to go and forgive sins, such that “whatever sins you forgive are forgiven”…
Thus we can see the evenings of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday as one Ordination Rite in the Upper Room: at the Last Supper, Jesus gives them the Eucharist and the power to confect it; at the Easter Evening, Jesus gives them mercy and the power to dispense it.
To show how powerful and particular this grace is, Jesus breathes on them—which is the only other time that this is done in Sacred Scripture (the other being when God breathes on Adam to bring him to life). The connection being quite amazing: Jesus is fashioning the Apostles in such a way that they have this new life in them: a new life to give to others: namely, the very forgiveness which God offers us through them.
This is also why He pours out the Holy Spirit upon them—for only God can forgive sins. But as water through a pipe, this Holy Spirit and the grace of God will flow through the Apostles chosen and appointed by God.
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Of course, Thomas was not there on that Easter Evening. Who knows why. But he wasn’t and so he missed this second part of the ordination. This, too, was no accident in the plan of God.
Jesus wanted to show the others how far God’s mercy extends: that it isn’t just a one-time offer; it is a mercy that goes the extra mile.
Jesus, therefore, draws near again to the Apostles, this time when Thomas is present. Thomas doesn’t believe the Apostles: both that Jesus is risen and that this power to grant mercy has been given them. Thomas proclaims, as does modern science, that he will not believe until he is able to touch.
Ask and you shall receive, Thomas.
Mercy draws near and invites Thomas to enter in—and quite literally. (This is the only way to come to knowledge of God: by entering into that relationship). Jesus invites Thomas to touch the side that was pierced by a lance—that lance which went all the way to the heart, a heart that, once pierced, poured forth blood and water upon the Roman soldier who held the lance. And, who in that moment was not only covered by the blood and water of Jesus—a foretaste of the Sacraments—but through it came to believe in Jesus: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
Thomas was invited to touch this very side. And so Thomas places his fingers there. But not just on the skin and not just on the ribs. Thomas slides his fingers in such that he is able and likely does indeed touch the very heart of Jesus. A heart that is alive and beating and pouring out divine mercy upon him.
Thomas cries out: “My Lord and My God!”
He has received forgiveness and, not only that, the power to forgive; for Jesus Himself had said to Thomas, “Peace be with you”… Imagine how awesome Thomas and the Apostles would have been as confessors!
Indeed, we see (in the First Reading) Peter going through the area healing people of their physical and spiritual infirmities. Even if his shadow fell upon them, they were healed!
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To think that I have received this grace—both the forgiveness of my own sins and the power to forgive others of theirs—it is truly overwhelming.
This gets at the heart of Divine Mercy Sunday: not only that Jesus forgives sins, but that He has given this divine power to sinful men. It is humbling and overwhelming and a tremendous manifestation of His mercy.
What can I say to all of this? I pray the Psalm:
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever!