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Gospel commentary: ‘Peace I leave you’

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Gospel Commentary April 19, JN 20:19-31

On Easter Sunday evening, the disciples were behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. Jesus suddenly appeared, not as a bloody corpse, but in his personhood, body and soul, humanity and divinity, glorified and spiritualized. However, he still had his wound marks, to show the hurt caused by sin. When he said, “Peace be with you,” a great peace must have rushed into the hearts of the apostles. 

In Hebrew, the word “shalom,” which we translate as peace, signifies a completion, a perfection and a condition in which nothing is lacking or disordered. St. Paul said, “God is a God not of disorder, but peace” (I Cor 14:33). By his cross and resurrection, Jesus restored the order of grace from the disorder caused by sin. The crucified and living Savior conquered sin, suffering and death itself. St. Paul taught, “It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him and by means of him, to reconcile everything to his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20). The preface for the feast of Christ the King summarizes this thought well: “For you [holy Father] anointed your Only Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness as eternal Priest and King of all creation, so that, by offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace, He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and, making all things subject to His rule, He might present to the immensity of your majesty an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Only in Christ can we find peace. 

Note what happened next: Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, what sins you forgive, are forgiven; what sins you hold bound, are held bound.” Here is the sacrament of penance. Jesus conferred upon his apostles as priests to be the mediators of his forgiveness. Even though our lives may fall into disorder because of our sins, Christ restores the order of grace through this beautiful sacrament. Jesus pronounces the words of absolution through his priest:  “… may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins … ” Christ breathes new life into us: forgiving our sins, healing our souls, and strengthening us with grace. Each time we go to confession and receive absolution, it is like Easter happens again for us, a death and resurrection to new life. Remember, Christ never gives up on us. Christ never spurns a humble, contrite heart. And we must never give up on ourselves. 

Now what about Thomas? He was missing for some reason. He refused to believe the reports from his brother apostles. It is all about “I”: “Unless I see and unless I touch, I will not believe.” Well, Our Lord could have said, “Snooze you lose.” Instead, Jesus appeared specifically to Thomas, and said, “Put your fingers in my wounds, and your hand to my side.” Immediately, I think of Caravaggio’s great painting: Jesus guides Thomas’ hand into his side; Thomas is wide-eyed looking at the wound. I wonder, what did he see? His own sins that caused the wound? What did he feel? The love of Our Lord’s beating heart? I think so. Thomas dropped the “I,” and now had a humbled and contrite heart.

Therefore, this Gospel passage not only attests to the reality of Our Lord’s resurrection, but also to his infinite mercy. For good reason, Pope John Paul II declared this the Sunday of Divine Mercy. He was moved by the elocutions and appearances of Our Lord to St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish sister, beginning in 1931. Jesus spoke of his infinitely divine mercy, and told her to have an image painted: He appears in glory, but with his wound marks. Just as water and blood flowed when St. Longinus pierced his side as he hung upon the cross, from his Sacred Heart flow two rays of light — one a blue-white symbolizing baptism, and I believe also penance, (which heals our soul of sin after baptism), and one a red, symbolizing the gift of the Eucharist, through which he dwells in us. At the bottom, Jesus instructed to have printed, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Our Lord also said, “If they do not believe in my words of mercy, tell them to believe in my wounds.”

In our world today, we need to implore his infinite mercy. We need to be ambassadors of Christ’s mercy through our practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to heal the wounds of sin. For in all, Jesus said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; I do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27).

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020