As the Year of Mercy ends, we learn the true meaning of Divine Mercy

Tim Irwin

By Tim Irwin

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe/Nov. 20

2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122:1-2,3-4,4-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

The readings for the Thirty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time conclude both the Church year and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy with perhaps the most hopeful of all the Gospel passages. The Church weaves these reading together, creating a simple and profound message. The happiness that we crave and find to be so elusive will only be finally and fully had in the risen life of Christ.

The first reading from the Second Book of Samuel recounts the anointing of David as the king of the Children of Israel. The Lord said to David and by implication to his successors, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” History reveals that the kings of Israel largely failed in this endeavor and the Children of Israel were swept into one pagan empire after another with the Romans dominating in the time of Christ.

Paul, writing to the Christians in Colossae, hopes to counter the impact of Gnosticism, a heresy that claims that salvation comes not through Christ, but through secret knowledge. Paul says, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Paul lays out just how the last successor of David, the true and final shepherd, fulfilled the charge made to David nearly 1,000 years earlier. He says, “For in him (Jesus) all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”

Some people observing the crucifixion did not have Paul’s insight into the meaning of the suffering and death of Christ. Luke reports, “The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.’ Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, ‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”

A HOPEFUL PROMISE

If we put ourselves in the spectator’s place, would our reaction have been so different? The common sense of the day held that the promised messiah should be a military commander as David had been, mustering the Children of Israel and expelling the Romans, and not experiencing one of the most dehumanizing forms of torture ever devised. But these were uncommon times, when the unbounded love of God triumphed over the conventional wisdom of the day, as the story of the Good Thief, St. Dismas, so vividly illustrates.

Consider the scene. Men experiencing a torturous death by slowly suffocating on a cross. Push up in excruciating pain to keep breathing or relax to escape the pain and struggle for your next breath. It seems like a no-win situation until a lone voice from a man whose presence on a cross suggests that he had for a lifetime disdained the conventional wisdom of his day.

St. Dismas said, “We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Such is the meaning of Divine Mercy.

Let us end this church year and the Jubilee of Mercy as St. Dismas ended his life by firmly placing our hope in Christ crucified and risen. At the moment of death may we each hear the Lord say, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.

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