Year A: Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity, Sunday after Pentecost
John 3, 16-18
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
- Do you believe it is God’s desire that everyone be saved? If so, how does this belief affect the way you treat others?
- Beyond making the sign of the cross, how much does the Trinity actually play an active role in your faith life? Explain in what ways?
- When you pray, do you pray to one person in the Trinity more than to another? If so, do you know why? What determines to whom you pray?
- If we are made in the image of God, then this means the image is “perfect relationship”. On one level this would mean that; how you “relate” to everything and everyone is a reflection of your relationship with God? How does this strike you?
Rudolf Schnackenburg, the German theologian whom Pope Benedict XVI recognized as one of the most important exegetes of the latter 20th century, called John 3:16 a short summary of the entire Gospel. In Eucharistic Prayer 4, this one verse is embellished as it reiterates our belief that God has never abandoned us; that from age to age God reaches out to humanity; that God’s grace constantly leads us to seek salvation. We recall how time and again God has offered us covenants and sent prophets to remind us of both God’s love and our own potential. Finally, as that eucharistic prayer reminds us, in the fullness of time God sent us the beloved Son.
As we meditate on this reading for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we find ourselves looking over the whole of salvation history. The passage begins with God’s love for the world, reminding us of the myths which speak of the wonder of creation: how the great God Almighty tenderly fashioned the universe and created humanity capable of reflecting the divine image. From the beginning God loved this world with all its potential.
When we hear “the world” in John’s Gospel we remember as well that this world has been hostile to God’s love. No Gospel proclamation can ignore the reality of sin and division that has marked human history since the days of Cain and Abel. This, too, is the world that God has loved, the world that rejects God and contravenes every impulse to peace and unity.
It is to this world with all its good and evil, with all its goodness and potential and with all its destructive tendencies that God sent the Son. And while preachers have long been famous for highlighting the sin lurking in every hidden corner and calling for the fear of God in the face of the handing over of God’s son, this Gospel proclaims “God did not send the Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.”
The last part of today’s reading takes us back to Deuteronomy 30 when Moses invited the people to choose the life God was offering them. John says that those who believe will be saved and those who do not have been condemned. As many other things in the Gospel of John, this can be mistakenly understood in a narrow, almost magical way or, alternatively, as an invitation to ongoing reflection on what we believe about God, God’s love and human life.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity celebrates God revealed simply as “God For Us.” God gave Moses a limited vision but still so overwhelming that his face, his very soul, would never be the same. In Christ we have received the ultimate image of God’s unceasing, invincible and overwhelming love. Paul reminds us that to the extent that we believe in that revelation, God’s Spirit can work in and through us, thereby allowing the love of God to be ever more present in our world.
God’s Rule of Three
By David Heimann
If you ever take a class on comedy, you’ll learn about a concept of which comedians regularly make use. It’s called the “rule of three.” An example of the rule is a comedian who pretends to be a waiter in a seafood restaurant and says, “I’d like to introduce you to today’s fresh fish specials. We are serving salmon, halibut and canned tuna.”
The principle behind the rule is simple. First, the comedian steers the audience by influencing the listener’s thoughts to flow as if they were on a set of established train tracks. The first two examples serve to “set up” the track, but then a third example intentionally derails the metaphorical train, and the resulting jolt comes as a surprise and (hopefully) is something at which we will chuckle. It is the thrill of “the expected meeting the unexpected” that brings such delight.
Today is the church’s celebration of the “rule of three” — the dogma of the Holy Trinity. It is so important within our faith tradition that the Trinity is our acclamation whenever we begin or end anything we do. From our baptism to our daily prayers to our final farewell at a funeral, we do these things “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Where in these relatively short readings do we see God named as “the Trinity?” In the first reading, we hear that God appears to Moses with all of the clarity of a cloud. In the Gospel John tells us how God loves the world with such enthusiasm that he sent the Son to redeem us. Paul comes a little nearer to revealing to us God’s trinitarian nature when he voices the greeting that regularly intones the beginning of Mass. Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
But why doesn’t God just come out and say “Hey? Believe in me! I’m the Trinity?” Why not use Moses, or the writers John or Paul to tell us, “Look, I’m really one God, but you’ll experience me in three different personas which will be like a Father at some points, a Son at others and then another concept all together which is like a ‘spirit’ but you should know that this ‘spirit’ will exceed any temporal dimension and will be with you forever. So just trust in any of these three phenomena because really, it’s just me and I’m just one.”
The mystery of the Trinity is vast, rich, deep and wondrous. Saints, poets and artists have exhausted countless efforts to explain and illustrate this mystery. Each attempt to describe this fundamental tenet within our faith both inches us closer to understanding the nature of God while at the same time pushes our understanding farther away. The Trinity is something to ponder more fully, in the same way we learn to deeply value a good movie, a good book or a good friendship. The more we explore it, the more we value it.
Just like a comedian’s finely tuned set-up to a joke, there are some things we know certainly about God. God is absolute and dependable. God is the expected constant. We can ground ourselves in God. And just like a comedian’s unforeseen wrinkle, God is also the unexpected, the surprising, and the ever-new. We can rest assured in knowing that God is one, but we should also be astounded by the unexpected twist in knowing that God’s oneness is three. This mystery is God’s delight and with a smile, we are invited to enter into his ever-unfolding revelation as we do everything in God’s “rule of three.”