Sunday, April 19, 2009

Three ‘Defects’ Of Merciful Jesus

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year B): This homily was given on April 19, 2009, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 20: 19-31.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2009]

Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was a Catholic bishop in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), who was imprisoned for his faith back in 1975 by the Communist government of Vietnam. He spent the next thirteen years of his life in jail, nine of them in complete isolation. He survived the horrors of that experience through prayer, and by secretly saying Mass whenever he could with a small piece of bread and a few drops of wine.

When he was finally expelled from Vietnam in 1991, he went to Rome, where he served in the Roman Curia under Pope John Paul II. He was made a Cardinal in 2001, the year before he died.

In 2000, the Jubilee Year, the Holy Father asked then-Archbishop Van Thuan to preach the spiritual exercises to him and to the members of the Curia. These talks were later published in a book entitled, “Testimony of Hope,” which I read not long ago. I mention this today because in the second talk of the series, Archbishop Van Thuan makes a very shocking statement—although, properly understood, it’s also a very meaningful statement, which can help us to better understand the incredible mercy of God on this Divine Mercy Sunday. Here are his words: “I left everything to follow Jesus, because I love the defects of Jesus.”

I left everything to follow Jesus, because I love the defects of Jesus.

Now we all know that Jesus Christ was sinless (that’s a clear teaching of the Bible and our Catholic faith), so does saying this make Archbishop Van Thuan a heretic?

No—although admittedly the statement does make him sound like one.

And he admits that. But then he goes on in the talk to clarify the meaning of his words. And he does that by giving several examples: several examples of “defects” that he has found in Jesus Christ—none of which, by the way, says or even implies that Jesus ever sinned.

I will mention three of them in this homily.

Defect #1 according to Archbishop Van Thuan: Jesus has a terrible memory. In other words, the Lord not only forgives, he also “forgets” our sins whenever we approach him with sincere repentance in our hearts. The gospels, of course, are full of examples of this phenomenon: the good thief; the woman caught in adultery; the prodigal son; Simon Peter; Saul of Tarsus—and on and on the list goes.

Now let me make one qualification here. When we say that Jesus “forgets” our sins, it doesn’t mean that he no longer knows what we did. Jesus is God, and God knows everything: past, present and future.

“Forgetting,” biblically speaking, means that the sin we’ve committed—and repented of—and been forgiven for—no longer comes between us and God.


God makes sure of it.

He still knows that we did it, but it’s now “over there, out of sight,” so to speak—and that’s where it stays. This, of course, is different from the way we sometimes deal with one another, isn’t it? Because of the fact that we’re weak and imperfect, we might forgive someone and put their sin “over there, out of sight” for a period of time, but then—if they hurt us again—we might bring that old sin back up and throw it in their face:

“You’re at it again! I knew you hadn’t really changed. I remember what you did to me all those years ago! You’re the same rotten person now that you were back then!”

Today on this Mercy Sunday we should say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your terrible memory. Help us to be better at following your example.”

The second defect of Jesus which Archbishop Van Thuan mentions in his talk is that Jesus doesn’t know math. Now let’s be clear about it, this is not an excuse for the children in the congregation to avoid doing their math homework: “But mom and dad, even Jesus was bad in math!”

Sorry, boys and girls, that’s not gonna fly with mom or dad or your math teacher in school—because “schoolbook math” is not what the archbishop is talking about here.

He’s talking about “soul-math”. The point he’s making is that to Jesus Christ each human soul is equally precious and valuable. This explains the famous parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus talks about a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine of his sheep in the wilderness to go search for the one that’s lost. As the archbishop puts it, “For Jesus, one is equal to ninety-nine—and perhaps more!”

That should be a consoling thought, because if we’re not the “one” right now, we easily could be at some point in the future. All it takes is one bad, mortally-sinful choice.

It’s good to know that the mercy of Jesus is always there for us, no matter what we’ve done.

This brings us to the third defect of Jesus according to Archbishop Van Thuan: He doesn’t know logic. Here the archbishop makes reference to the parable about the woman with the ten silver pieces who loses one of them. When she finally finds it, the Bible says she calls her friends and neighbors over for a party, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver piece that I lost.”

In commenting on this story, the archbishop states, “This is truly illogical—to disturb your friends over one silver piece and then to plan a feast to celebrate the find.”

It’s not humanly logical, that’s true, but it is what you might call “divinely logical.” It’s the same kind of logic that motivated the good shepherd to go look for his lost sheep. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus ends the parable of the ten silver pieces with almost the exact same words that he used at the end of the parable of the lost sheep: “Just so, I tell you, there is more joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Thank you, Jesus, for the mercy that flows from your “divine logic”—mercy which is available to every repentant human person.

Mercy that was experienced by Thomas the apostle on the Sunday after Easter. We heard about that a few moments ago in our gospel reading from John 20.

In fact, you could make a very good case that the only reason Jesus made this appearance in the upper room seven days after his resurrection was to “find” Thomas, his lost sheep who didn’t believe that he had risen from the dead.

He didn’t need to appear to the other ten, since they already were convinced that he was alive.
For Thomas, it had to be a very unsettling experience. Can you imagine how he felt putting his fingers in the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side?

But once he had been forgiven for his unbelief, it was over.

Thomas probably remembered his sin vividly for the rest of his life (for obvious reasons!), but the Lord completely forgot about it, in the sense that he never allowed it to come between him and Thomas again.

Thomas repented of his sin, renewed his faith, and in the process he brought out the beautiful “defects” of Jesus and experienced his mercy. We do the same thing whenever we are truly sorry for our sins and make a good confession. We allow Jesus Christ to be for us what he was for Thomas and what he wants to be for everyone: an illogical, terribly forgetful, mathematically-challenged dispenser of divine mercy.

Please remember that, especially if you haven’t confessed your sins in a long time—or if you’ve neglected to confess some serious sins in the past that you know you need to confess.