Lectionary commentary: Trinity Sunday



READINGS

A reading from the book of Exodus, 34:4-6. 8-9

Responsorial Psalm, Daniel 3:52-56. R/. v. 52

A reading from the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 13:11-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John, 3:16-18



As the Confirmation boy said to the inquisitor bishop, when the latter raised the matter of the Blessed Trinity, “You’re not supposed to understand it! It’s a mystery!” Had the bishop possessed a more enquiring mind he would have pursued the matter further with the juvenile theologian. He might have asked whether it is God’s practice to reveal matters to mere mortals in order that mortals should not understand what the good Lord is talking about.

When Isaiah reports that the makers of idols go in confusion, he is delighted to report that the people of Israel “shall not be put to shame or be confounded to all eternity” (Isaiah 45:16):

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
“Seek me in vain.”
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.

Isaiah 45:18-19

God does not speak in riddles. God does not speak in the darkness of chaos. God is not in the business of confusion but of enlightenment and clarification. Whatever the Trinity might be, it is not an exercise in obfuscation.



A reading from the book of Exodus, 34:4-6. 8-9

Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love. And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped. And he said, “If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff- necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.

The word of the Lord.


In the name of the Father...

The God Moses met on Mount Sinai is not a Lord who conceals. To be sure he is YHWH, a name not even to be whispered. But the face that God turns to the world is easily read:

O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Psalm 64:8

Our very being is birthed into the world by our Father Mother. Every moment of our existence is in the hands of the Lord. When each of us are born and the little boat of life sets out on the sea of the living,

it is your providence,
O Father, that steers its course,
because you have given it a path in the sea,
and a safe way through the waves …

Wisdom of Solomon 14:3

The Lord

Father,
and ruler of my life—

Sirach 23:1

directs my every step with gentleness and steadfast love for,

he is a merciful God and Father

3 Maccabees 5:79 (an apocryphal work)

All else may fail but God’s love endures:

You are my Father,
my God,
you are the rock of my salvation.

Psalm 89:26

We are wrapped in the swaddling cloths of God’s love from cradle to grave and beyond:

He is our Father forever.

Tobit 13:4

The revelation made on Mount Sinai to the greatest of all prophets, God’s servant Moses, is true in every detail. As our reading from the Book of Exodus tells us today, Our Lord and God, our Father in heaven is,

a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Exodus 34:6


Responsorial Psalm Daniel 3:52-56. R/. v. 52

Blessed are you, Lord, God of our ancestors!

R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.

Blessed be your glorious and holy name!

R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.


Blessed be you in the temple of your glory!
R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.

Blessed are you on your royal throne.
R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.

Blessed are you who gaze into the depths!

R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.

Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven.
R/. To you be glory and praise forever more.

The Book of Daniel, from which the Responsorial Prayer is taken on this day, is placed among the Prophets in our Bibles. This book is usually to be found after the Book of Isaiah. It was written some four hundred years later than the completion of Isaiah. It emerges from the time of Antiochus IV (175 - 164 B.C., a Syrian king (descended from the Greek invaders led by Alexander the Great). He attempted to destroy the religious faith of the Jewish people. The Book of Daniel is a work of imagination, of the same kind as the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. It is a fantasy to reassure people suffering in a time of persecution and terror. The writers of such works usually insist on the almighty power of God, of the imminent intervention of God to destroy the hated enemy, and the certain deliverance of those who remain steadfast in the faith of their fathers.

Today’s extract comes from the prayer of the famous three young men who found themselves dumped into a fiery furnace. They walked around in the flames singling hymns and arias blessing God’s holy name. One of the three, a youth named Azariah “stood still in the fire and prayed aloud” and it is from his prayer that our Responsorial is taken.

The prophet Daniel imagines a fourth young man in the blazing furnace. This is an angel of the Lord who made the inferno a pleasant place for the three faithful singers.

The prayer of Azariah resembles Psalm 136 and Psalm 148 where the wonders of God are sung in amazement and thankful joy. The opening verses of Psalm 148 illustrate the type:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels
;
praise him, all his hosts.



A reading from the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The word of the Lord.


And of the Son...

We must not imagine that the “our” in Our Father is exclusive, as if anyone could be conceived to be outside the Father’s love. As 3 Maccabees 2:21 expresses the matter, God is “the first Father of all”. To be sure, the Church is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, as we learn in the very first line of the Second Letter to Thessalonian Christians:

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

II Thessalonians 1:1-2

Yet being in the Church that is “in God our Father” does not exhaust the heavenly stewardship of little churches scattered hither and yon across the world. The Son took flesh, became human so that the world might learn the nature and nearness of Father. Quite a number of theologian saints in the early Church used to say that God became human so that humans might become God. They well realised the utter exaggeration of the saying. But it conveyed a truth: Jesus is the Son who draws us into the love of the Father. Jesus is the Son who stands before the Father with all humanity to the right and left of him and says, “These are my sisters and brothers”. In the Son we are wrapped with warmth of the Fathers love.

In both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament there are sons and daughters aplenty. But they were, at times, rather scarce. Abraham and Sarah did not produce a child until they were advanced in years (Genesis 21:2). Their son Isaac had two sons, the twins Esau and Jacob. Thereafter sons and daughters abound. Jacob had a large and fractious family. The best of the sons and daughters in Jacob’s unruly band was Joseph, he of the dream coat.

It is recorded that the Lord had a special eye on Joseph:

the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.

Genesis 39:21

At the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible Cain kills his brother and when God inquired the whereabouts of Abel, the glib answer was,

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:9

For nigh on 40 chapters we await an answer as the question hovered over the cruelties and violence that beset the human family and infiltrated into the family of Jacob. The answer came when Joseph wept aloud and declared to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery,

I am you brother Joseph.

Genesis 45:4

When the ignominy of his brothers is finally exposed, the brothers fear that Joseph “will hate us and pay us back for all the evil we did to him” (Genesis 50:15). But the one who lived in the steadfast love of God offers his lying brothers, and all who seek an answer to Cain’s question the only possible answer:

Am I in the place of God?

Genesis 50:19

There are sons and daughters throughout the whole of the Hebrew Bible who confront us with that question. There is even a son in whom God put much trust:

The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people.

I Samuel 13:14

The “man after his own heart” was David the King, an adulterer a murderer, a betrayer of friends, a traitor to his people, a man who ignored the rape of a daughter, and on his death bed instructed his son and heir Solomon to kill three of this old enemies. Yet it is this David who turns up in the Book of Psalms and in our Lectionary during the holy days of Eastertide:

You are my son;
today I have begotten you.

Psalm 2:7

There are, too, daughters aplenty in the pages of the Hebrew Bible. There is Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who laughed at God (Genesis 18:12). There is Rebekah who found a husband at the well (Genesis 24:1-67) and was well able to negotiate her life in a man’s world. Leah and Rachel share joy and sadness, the one in the many children around her, the other who died bringing her second child into the world. She was buried in Bethlehem (Genesis, chapters 29 to 35).

There is Miriam, Ruth and Naomi, Deborah, Sisera (a problem case), Delilah, Bathsheba, Esther, and the come-hither Abigail. There are five women who were employed as God’s prophets, one of whom a seamstress named Huldah, must be thanked for starting the impetus that gave us our Bible (II Kings 22:I - 23:3).

Indeed the whole people of the covenant are “the children whom, you, O Lord, loved” (Wisdom 16:26). Those people who were born slaves in Egypt are God’s “beloved sons and daughters” (Judith 9:4).

We must realise that all these sons and daughters and many more besides, are part and parcel of the story of Jesus. They are people who mirror the good, the bad, and the ugly of the sons and daughters who walk this world. They are our mothers and fathers in faith and in the lack of it. It is to their world that God sent his Son that we may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).

In the New Testament there are sons and daughters aplenty. Acquaint yourselves with the many women who laboured with St. Paul, one a deacon and one, would you believe it, a woman called to be an apostle before the great apostle received his vocation (Romans 16:1-16 ). They are a transformed people, a new creation, as St. Paul reveals:

we are the Temple of the living God;
as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

II Corinthians 6:16-18

Luke’s Gospel is full of women from Elizabeth and the women of Jerusalem “who were mourning and lamenting for him” on the way to the place called the Skull.

There is a Son identified by a voice from heaven as “My Beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). This Son, as those apparently lifeless genealogies name, comes to a little town of Bethlehem. Yet “every thing that the Father has” belongs to him (John 16:15). Indeed, “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

This only Son came for but one purpose:

The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 19:10

The blessing upon the family of Christian churches in Corinth that ends today’s second reading quickly became part of Christian liturgy and has remained as a blessing on all who know or would know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Grace is the word for the unearned and unearnable gift of love. Grace creates a bond, unbreakable and everlasting. It is given as mercy, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, and indeed, that all embracing love that has no end. Tis is a love that has no conditions attached.

Indeed the grace given the world by the Son is the very love he receives from the Father, the God of all graciousness. The love that is God’s grace is best told in a story to be read imagining your life is part of this story:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk
;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
but Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
consume the bars of their gates,
and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
and though they call out to the Most High,
he shall not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like
Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me
;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger
;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

Hosea 11:1-9

...and of the Holy Spirit

In the beginning the Spirit of God moved over the waters of chaos, waiting for the word to be spoken: And God said ... .In the biblical perspective the Spirit of God is the implementer of all God purposes to undertake in creation. The Spirit binds God and the Son to the world. The Spirit holds everything together. The Spirit fosters unity, fellowship, togetherness in love, oneness in spirit. A community filled with the Spirit of God provokes the world into comment:

See how these Christians love one another.

It is enriching to explore at least some of the Spirit’s busy-ness in the world. The Spirit went forth from God to empower the heroes of old:

the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon.

Judges 6:34

Even such a rapscallion as Samson is empowered by the Spirit:

The Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him in Mahanehdan.

Judges 13:25

The prophets were consecrated by the Holy Spirit and again and again they point to the work of the Spirit. In times of trial and suffering the word of counsel from the prophets is to pray (what might be a Corona prayer),

until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness,
quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.

Isaiah 32.15-18

Notice what happens when the Spirit is poured out. Yes, the desert waste will become a fruitful field teeming with the fruits of the earth. But the Holy Spirit will demand more than tables laden with food. There is a price to be paid: justice, righteousness, quietness (not the tumult of war), trust, peace: these are what must come if there is to be a peaceful habitation, a secure and quiet resting place.

Isaiah had an eye on the future and to the coming of one who will bring about a future of joy:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

The Book of Isaiah announces that the Spirit of the Lord will come to rest on a future king who will transform the world into the vision of God:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Isaiah 61:1-2

It is clear that God’s Spirit is the dynamic power coaxing the People of Israel into holiness, and therefore into God’s kind of justice, into God’s kind of righteousness, and above all into God’s kind of peace. The vision of the prophet Joel, quoted by St. Peter on Pentecost Day in the very first Christian proclamation, offers a vision of the task that the Holy Spirit missioned to achieve:

it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and
female slaves
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Joel 2:28-29


AMEN!

With the coming of the Son, the Spirit, is, indeed, poured out on all flesh. Some paragraphs from the Letter to Ephesians provide a rich vision of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working for the wellbeing of men and women. The key sentence is this:

For through him (Jesus) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 2:18

First, the work of the Son:

now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2:13-17

The key words in this long sentence are “in Christ Jesus”. Similar phrases express the same understanding. The Church is “in Christ”, “in Christ Jesus”. It is “the body of Christ”. Christians are members of Christ’s body. To be a Christian is to belong to other Christians, to be united in Christ. Christians are not people “tossed to and fro by the waves” of a deceitful world:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

It is the Holy Spirit that is guardian of all that the Church is, the Spirit who keeps the Church “in Christ”:

In him [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

It is the Spirit who preserves the unity of peace in the Church of Christ, inspiring each one to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Our identity is plainly expressed:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

We are what we are, created, established, and preserved by Father, Son, and Spirit. The author to Ephesians was not alone in his addiction to long sentences but his are glorious long sentences:

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:18-22

Had the Confirmation boy journeyed through his Bible (if he had been permitted to posses such a dangerous book), he would have found a loving Father, a reconciling Son, and an energising Spirit. In short he would have discovered who God is and who we are.


Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon.