The Shape of Mercy

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) – April 19, 2020

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Acts 242-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

I want to go back to the first reading we have today. That beautiful summary of what the life of early Christians looked like. As a Christian now, here in 2020, one thing I often ask and think about is, “If someone grew-up on a desert island but was able to read the Bible and the writings of the early Christians, and then they came to visit our parish here in Wichita, now in 2020—would that person recognize us as the same people that they encountered in Scripture and the early writings?” Obviously, things look a little different. But essentially, are we the same people that encountered the Risen Lord? Have we encountered the Lord? And do we live out of this encounter? Does this encounter shape our entire life?

Usually, day after day, what shapes our life is the opinion and the pressure of others; our schedule, our plans, our dreams; our anxiety, our vices, our attachments; our attempt at self-sufficiency. That’s just it: we live day after day with all of these things shaping our life. Yes or no? Think about it. Really, think about it.

  • What determines when you wake up? Your job, school, kids…or maybe you don’t have a reason to wake up and get out of bed.
  • What determines what you wear? Your job, what other people think, what you feel you need to wear to fit in, something your friends expect you to wear, something that expresses yourself, something that makes you feel good about yourself, something that doesn’t make us feel fat.
  • What do you spend your time doing all day? Working, making money, studying, watching Netflix, cleaning, talking to friends, watching everyone else’s life on social media, sometimes nothing.
  • What do you worry about on a daily basis? Money, bills, cleaning, food, what other people are doing, whether other people are having more fun, pimples, what other people think about us, why that person left me on “seen,” why that person doesn’t follow me anymore.

Again, day after day, usually what shapes most of our life is the opinion and the pressure of others; our schedule, our plans, our dreams; our anxiety, our vices, our attachments; our attempt at self-sufficiency.

I call myself a Christian. If you’re watching this, you probably call yourself a Christian. But the question is: “If someone grew-up on a desert island but read the Bible, and they met you—would that person recognize in you the same people that they encountered in Scripture?” Read that first reading again:

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.…All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)

What a beautiful image. And as strange as it sounds, this time right now has forced us to live this passage more and more. People are devoted to the “communal life” and are “together.” You, families are now forced to live together, spend time together, be in each other’s company, more life in common than before this crisis. Many of you have started to “eat your meals” together. People are “praying” more: since you cannot come to mass, you have taken the initiative to pray together as a family, to read the Bible, to study the “teaching of the apostles.” Even though we are separated, it seems as if we have come closer “together,” and we are helping one another in this crisis, “dividing” what we have, and sharing our “property and possessions” with others.

We have been forced to live like this: praying together, being together in communal life, eating meals together, helping one another and serving one another. We’re forced to live like this. But why did the first Christians, literally the very first Christians spontaneously start living like this? What experience did they have?

Mercy. They experienced mercy. In Jesus Christ, they had encountered mercy. These people encountered the Risen Lord. They lived out of this encounter. This encounter shaped their entire life.

Go back to my questions at the beginning. How do we live? What determines when you wake up? What determines what you wear? What you do all day? What you worry about? And on and on. What shapes your entire life? I know that we all “believe” in Jesus. But how do you live? Really. When you look at your life, your motivations, what gives your strength—what is it that gives shape to your life?

Maybe I’ll ask it a different way: What has the capacity to determine your whole life? What is something that has the ability to shape your whole life? When someone looks at you and loves you, even though you do not deserve it. “Nothing can break down our resistance and challenge our freedom like an authentic preference and freely-given love that affirm us totally” (Carrón, Where Is God?, 55). When someone freely loves you with an everlasting love, an unmerited love, a love you do not deserve, that you know you are unworthy ofˆ, that loves you in spite of your unworthinesswhen someone looks at you with mercy, everything changes.

Everything changes. You decide to start doing things you never would have done before, behaving in a way that was unimaginable before. All of a sudden, you want to spend time “together” and live a “communal life.” You want to “eat your meals” together. You want to share your life, even your “property and possessions.” Look. Mercy has the power to do that, Divine Mercy.

This is Divine Mercy. It’s not just forgiveness or pardon. Mercy is not avoiding punishment.

Mercy…Divine Mercy…it is God loving you in spite of your lack of deserving His love. He embraces our past, forgives our sins, makes us blameless in His sight, recreates us, removes fear. He allows us to come to him broken, unworthy, ugly, addicted, full of shame. And he embraces us, totally, freely. He allows us to stop pretending we are perfect and rather to present ourselves to him as we are—and loves us anyway. And the amazing thing? This relationship allows us to look at others with this same mercy, to allow others to encounter the merciful gaze of the risen Lord in us. And that changes everything, and it has the power to shape our entire life.

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