This is the Sunday with many names: Low Sunday, Thomas Sunday, Sunday in the Easter Octave, Sunday ending Bright Week. Pope John Paul II said we might also call the Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday. What is it about?
The Hebrew word Chesed refers to God's Mercy. Appearing dozens of times in the bible, Chesed declares that God is kind - lovingly kind. Some Christians think "God's Mercy" suggests God is a soft touch, preferring the blow up God who annihilates enemies.
Having tried everything to win us back to himself, God turned to face us squarely, looking upon our world most tenderly and kindly through the human face of Jesus Christ. We see this especially in the Gospel of St. Mark, where Jesus often takes people by the hand, lifting them up from their sickness and frailty (Mark 1:31, 1:41, 5:41, 8:23, 9:27). In Christ, God, ever so kindly lifts up humanity out of our folly, stupidity and brashness.
In today's Gospel, Thomas is absent when the others meet the risen Jesus. Notice Jesus doesn't say, "Well, too bad for you Thomas, you missed it." But Jesus appears a second time when Thomas is present, and invites him to take a closer look.
On Easter morning, discouraged Peter returned to his former life as a fisherman where Jesus met him on the beach for breakfast (John 21:12). It seems in Christ, God tailors himself to the needs of our inner world.
And we're supposed to learn from this: not only how God is with us, but how we might be with others.
I received an email the other day from a young man who graduated high school about five years ago. After graduation he became down and out, repeatedly dropping out of college and eventually losing his funding. He cheated death a number of times in bad living and found himself hungry and almost homeless. Landing a job in a sheet metal factory, he developed asthma from the chemicals.
One Sunday he stumbled into an Eastern Orthodox church and stayed for the liturgy. Having professed atheism most of his adult life, the visit prompted him to start searching in Catholic churches and even Buddhist temples, while periodically returning to the Orthodox community.
It was there that the parishioners rallied around him. Even though he knew they had problems of their own, these folks saw to it that he had food and a couple of bucks in his pocket. And when he took a job that required a daily commute, the priest's mother made him lunch and gave him money for the bus everyday.
So he was baptized last week at the Easter Liturgy. It wasn't dogma, great liturgy or a charismatic preacher that won him, but the kindness of the parishioners.
Mercy, which is loving kindness, whether God's or ours, begins with noticing: Jesus noticing dejected Peter. Jesus noticing Thomas wasn't there. The parishioners noticing the young fellow's dilemma.
Mercy begins with noticing.
Mercy begins with noticing.