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Posted by on Apr 6, 2024

Mercy and Faith – Hand in Hand

Mercy and Faith – Hand in Hand

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was just learning to walk. He was a curious boy and eager to explore his world. He lived in a home in which there were a davenport, a recliner, and a lamp table sitting together in the living room. (A davenport is a piece of furniture also known as a sofa, couch, or Chesterfield, in case you were wondering.) There was a narrow path between the recliner and the lamp table and davenport.

Sometimes, the little boy would be beside the davenport and notice something on the other side of the path between the recliner and the lamp table. The space was just barely wide enough for him to pass through it, but only if he kept perfect balance and didn’t get distracted on his way. So, he would bravely head into what his family came to call Dead Man’s Gulch! Part way through, he would fall and need help getting back up. Someone always came to the rescue and suggested that it might be easier to go around the recliner on the other side. But next time would come around and into the Gulch he would go, with predictable results.

This child’s experience came to mind today as I was reflecting on Divine Mercy, the theme of the Second Sunday of Easter. We often think of mercy as something that is given to those who merit it. By this logic, there are people who do not merit it at all. We look at what has been done and say that some things are simply unforgivable. Each of us has our own sense of what could never be forgiven, however. We look at whether the person harmed “had it coming” because of something they did or did not do. We look at whether the guilty party thought about and planned the action or whether it took place in a moment of blinding anger. Or maybe it wasn’t planned and was really just an accident that things happened the way they did?

But this is really not the way mercy works when we talk about God. We hear words in many readings and psalms to the effect that God judges and punishes sinners. We hear that God abandons the people when they break the covenant, but eventually God’s heart is softened and he again supports and defends his people, once they turn back to him.

That’s the way humans play the game. However, when we read those words, it’s essential to realize that they are the way humans interpret what is going on. It’s not necessarily the way God actually does things.

I suggest that God is actually more like the adults who helped the toddler up each time he crashed in the Gulch. The child was soothed and comforted, then the adult pointed out that it might be easier next time to go around the chair. Of course, it took a long time for the child to realize the adults might be right about that. In fact, it basically took until he got too big to get through the Gulch (or the adults moved the chair closer to the table so the passageway really was too thin).

We try things out. We act out of anger or frustration or despair or any number of other negative emotions. We decide not to act when we should. We act or speak when we shouldn’t. And God allows it to happen. We are free persons, with the option to choose what we will do and to do things wrongly, whether deliberately or accidentally. Either way, we have to experience the consequences – we crash in Dead Man’s Gulch. But God is there to help us get back up and try again.

The early Christian community experienced this first hand on the night of the Resurrection. The women had reported that Jesus had risen. Peter and John had seen the empty tomb. It was too much to believe. Then Jesus appeared in the locked room where they were all hiding. He showed them his wounded hands and feet. He asked for something to eat. They could see for themselves that he was not a ghost and they rejoiced. Then he spoke to them of mercy. He breathed the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God on them and promised that whatever wrongdoing (sin) they forgave would be forgiven by the Father. If they refused forgiveness, it would not be given.

Thomas needed more convincing, since he missed the first visit. Jesus came personally to Thomas as well and provided the proof he had demanded. He spoke those words of blessing for all of us who have followed afterwards, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:9-31)

The years following the resurrection have been filled with the efforts of the community to live as Jesus lived – trusting in God to provide what was needed, helping each other, serving those unable to fend for themselves, loving and forgiving each other, seeking to give glory to God through their lives, and trying to be a loving, merciful people. (Acts 4:32-35 and 1 Jn 5:1-6)

Sometimes the community has been a beacon of mercy. Sometimes we have missed the mark and become sources of scandal. For this we beg forgiveness and try to make amends. It’s not an easy thing to love as God loves. But it is essential to try. No one is at base unfit to be forgiven, because each of us is still the toddler trying to find the way through Dead Man’s Gulch. God is the parent who is there to pick us up, dust us off, give us a hug, and remind us to try going around the chair next time.

Faith and mercy go hand in hand. When we believe that we are loved and that anything can be forgiven, as long as we too forgive, then the kingdom of Heaven shines forth on Earth through our lives and actions. God’s justice is mercy. Ours must become so too.

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen. Alleluia.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday of Divine Mercy – Cycle B