Joy and Hope
April 10, 2010
Jesus’ enduring love and mercy will save us
Many of you, as well as I, have been unsettled and saddened by the recently disclosed cases of children abused by members of the clergy in Europe and the United States. The reports have accused Pope Benedict XVI of playing a role in covering up or mishandling these shocking stories.
The accounts have opened up old wounds and rekindled the still smoldering anger of a good number of the faithful. Innocent lives were deeply wounded. The sacred trust of families was betrayed. The beauty and truth of the Gospel of Jesus was obscured by the crimes and failings of his disciples.
Much has changed since the time of the reported events but the memories of those sinful offenses continue to haunt the church. In some measure it has become our own passion narrative filled with many of the same denials, betrayals and fearful running away that characterize the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In our own sad narration, we must also look to the Christ who loves his own till the end and still calls us his friends.
In Luke’s account, heard on Palm Sunday, the Lord Jesus knew that the first apostle, his dear friend Simon Peter, would deny him three times. Still, during the Last Supper, Jesus encouraged Peter with words about his eventual reconciliation and restoration: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Lk. 22.31-32).
These words tenderly and forgivingly spoken to Peter are spoken to all of us today. How hard it must have been for Simon Peter to recall these words as the cock crowed. At that moment Peter’s eyes caught the gaze of his beaten and scourged friend Jesus looking at him with affection while he quietly withstood the chief priest’s interrogation (Lk. 22.60-62).
Simon Peter and the first disciples did not wipe these shameful stories from their accounts. Quite the opposite, their own testimony of denial and betrayal were seen as part of the saving narrative of the Lord’s death and resurrection. The enduring love and mercy of the Lord Jesus saved them from their sins. The same Divine Good Shepherd and Good Friend will do the same for us now.
On the second Sunday of Easter we traditionally hear the resurrection narrative about Thomas, the one who doubted (Jn. 20.19-31). Considering the human dynamics of this story, it is hard not to understand the doubting Thomas. Their stories about the empty tomb and sightings of the risen Christ must have seemed nonsensical.
Think about who was telling these stories to Thomas, a bunch of guys who have denied Jesus, turned away, walked away and even ran away in the hours of his most desperate need. Is it no wonder that Thomas folded his arms and said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later, Jesus came among his friends again and said directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
The Gospel tells us that this was exactly what Thomas did. He peered down, reached out his hand and probed the wounds of Jesus. In doing this Thomas saw the palpable signs of Jesus’ great love. He touched the unfathomable sacrifice with which Jesus saved his sinful band of disciples. What could have been a moment of shame turns into a memorable profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
These days the wounds of Christ’s body, the church, are being probed again, the wounds inflicted by shameful sins and the foolish failures of leadership. Join with me in praying that the Lord Jesus heal those who have suffered as well as soothe the anguish of the faithful. May the Good Shepherd come among us this Eastertide as did that first feeble band of disciples, “Peace be with you…Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”