“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy is everlasting.” (Psalm 118:1)
There’s a story that apparently is part of church legend, but I did not hear until last night when I was listening to the homily of an archbishop from up north. It goes something like this: On the day of the final judgment, the day of victory when evil and the devil’s minions are finally vanquished, there is obviously great rejoicing in heaven. Everyone is singing and dancing in paradise except Jesus who is standing quietly at the gates of heaven. Someone goes and asks the Lord why he is standing there, to which Jesus replies: “I am waiting for Judas.” This story is so powerful because it reminds us that Jesus never gives up on any of us. He is always ready to forgive even the ones who have betrayed him.
This is a great lesson on Divine Mercy Sunday that takes on a special meaning during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. God is always ready to forgive and reach out to us even in the darkest moments of our sinfulness. Even when we think we have done something so horrendous that we feel does not merit God’s mercy, he gives it to us anyways for as the psalm reminds us: his mercy is everlasting, it knows no bounds. Look at the disciples in today’s gospel who are still hiding in fear after Christ died. I mentioned this in passing last week, but all of these men, except John, deserted Jesus while he was on the cross. Yet when Christ appears before them, he does not seek vengeance or an explanation, he simply gives the disciples what they had been missing in their hearts: peace. “Peace be with you,” the Lord says three times today. Peace is what we get when mercy is given to us. Peace is what we feel when we are embraced by the merciful arms of a God who waits patiently for us.
This morning Pope Francis defined mercy as “the bridge between God and man; opening our hearts to the hope of being loved.” That was the problem with Judas. He had his own agenda. His heart was closed off to being truly loved by Christ. Thomas, on the other hand, though he doubted upon receiving Christ’s mercy and peace allowed his heart to be so overcome that he exclaimed “my Lord and my God.” God’s mercy transforms hearts, and it should transform us in such a way that we are merciful towards others. Mercy must be an act, not just a warm and fuzzy feeling we get after coming out of confession. There are so many instances in the gospels where people who experience Jesus’ mercy through healing or forgiveness immediately go and share the good news of that mercy with others. I was discussing this with a priest friend of mine yesterday and we lamented how quick we are to seek the Lord’s mercy, but how slow we are to be merciful to others. So be merciful just as your Father in heaven is merciful as Jesus reminds us in Luke’s gospel.
Today we celebrate that God’s mercy triumphs over even the darkest of sins, and as a priest I experienced that mercy first hand during those long hours in the confessional during Holy Week. I read an article on a Catholic website the other day that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was dying. Well, my parishioners apparently never got that memo because that south wall of the church always had a long line whenever the confessionals were open during Holy Week. God’s mercy has triumphed. This is the cause of our joy. So if you haven’t experienced this mercy and joy because you feel that your sins are unforgivable, just think about that story I told earlier. If Jesus would wait for Judas because he hadn’t given up on him, how could he possibly give up on you?