Year B: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday after Pentecost

The Commissioning of the Disciples

Matthew 28: 16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In this passage the sight of the risen Jesus brought some to worship, but others doubted. Where in your life do you recognize Jesus has risen and where does doubt arise for you? Explain
  2. The disciples are to go to “all nations” for the real God is a universal reality and not the household God of one tribe or one nation.” Where do you extend yourself in faith-relationships beyond your personal religious identity? Is this important?
  3. “Our belief in God as Trinity, is not about making God an important factor in our lives, but about how we are a factor in God’s life”. We participate in the redemptive work of God. How does this statement change your understanding, when people use the phrase, “God has a plan” or “ It’s all in God’s plan”?
  4. When have you had or observed an experience of Trinitarian relationship? Not the theological explanation but, when has the mystery of God as “oneness and at the same time, uniqueness”, been a part of your relationship experience? Describe what occurred to you, or what happened.

Biblical Context

Matthew 28: 16-20
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

 Last week we read John’s story of the commissioning of the disciples. This week we read a commissioning story from Matthew. The commissioning stories all have the same function, but they differ a great deal in details. The significance of the unique details in Matthew’s account is much more clearly understood if we remember to whom Matthew is writing.

Matthew is writing for a primarily Jewish audience. Those in Matthew’s audience want to be faithful to the two-thousand-year tradition of their ancestors. They know that God gave Moses the authority to do what Moses did. So, they are asking, “Who gave Jesus the authority to do what Jesus did} Did he also have his authority from God?” In response to this question Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses who has authority from God to give the new law.

One scene in which Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses appeared earlier in the Gospel, when Jesus was explaining the relationship between the old law and the new law. Jesus tells the people he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them (see Matt 5:17). We often refer to this sermon of Jesus’ as the Sermon on the Mount, because Matthew pictures Jesus standing on a mountain as he promulgates the new law (see Matt 5:1), just as Moses stood on a mountain when he promulgated the old law. A mountain was also the setting for Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17:1).

Now when Matthew tells his commissioning story, he does not have the apostles commissioned in Jerusalem but in Galilee, on the mountain. “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” The reference to “the eleven” is, of course, a reminder of Judas’s death. That Jesus had ordered them to go to Galilee is a reference to Jesus’ instructions when he earlier appeared to “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matt 28:1): “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me”.

Matthew directly answers the question of Jesus’ authority in the wording of the commissioning. Jesus says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus’ authority is from God.

Jesus tells the disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” This post-resurrection directive differs from the directions that Jesus gave his disciples during his public ministry. When Jesus earlier commissioned the disciples he said, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”(Matt 10:5-6), However, by the time Matthew is writing, around AD 80, the church has come to realize that God wills that all people be invited into a relationship of covenant love. We read of the church coming to this understanding in the Acts of the Apostles when Cornelius and Peter have their dreams and Peter baptizes Cornelius and his family (see Acts 10). This later understanding has been included in the words of commissioning.

A second, later understanding that is included in the commissioning is the Trinitarian formula that the disciples are told to use when baptizing: “… baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This formula does not appear in the descriptions of early baptisms in Acts. In Acts during Peter’s speech at Pentecost, he tells the people to “repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). At the baptism of Cornelius Peter orders that Cornelius and his family” be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). However, by the time Matthew is writing, the Trinitarian formula was used, and Matthew includes it in his commissioning.

This Trinitarian formula, in which the Father is named, is one more way in which Matthew responds to the question of his Jewish audience. Jesus does not have a mission separate from the mission of his Father. Jesus’ mission is God’s mission. Those in Matthew’s audience are not being unfaithful to their religious roots by embracing Jesus.  Since Jesus came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, to become a disciple of Jesus is to remain faithful to God the Father.

The Choreography of Love

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

When it comes time to speak of God, especially God as Trinity, three persons and one essence, we always risk saying more than we really know or can ever know. That is the risk today on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is the temptation before every preacher. More often than not our analogies for the Trinity give way to heresies, the three and the one become a nonsensical math problem, and the Blessed Trinity is left holding little meaning for our day-to-day life. That is not because the Trinity is unimportant or irrelevant. It is because the deepest and the most important things of our life can rarely, if ever, be talked about. They can only ever be experienced.

Define love and list the reasons why you love that one person above all others. Count the ways and you’ll find that words fail. No list is long enough and after a while the reasons begin to sound hollow, empty. Describe for me the most beautiful day of your life. Maybe it was sitting in the silence of a sunset or the day your child was born. The colors and feelings, though real, sound trite compared to the reality of that beauty. Tell me about the deepest joy or tragedy of your life. Tell me the story. The facts may be accurate, but words can never contain the fullness of that joy or tragedy. At most they point to it.

When it comes to speaking about the most profound, meaningful, and life-changing things or events of our lives, words fall flat. They only seem to trivialize. So, it is with God. Perhaps that is why in today’s gospel Jesus does not explain or define the Trinity. Instead, he speaks of relationship and participation. Human beings, all nations, the entire world, are to be baptized, plunged, washed, immersed in the name, that is, the qualities and characteristics, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. St Paul describes these as grace , love and communion. At the end of his second letter, he entrusts the Corinthians not so much to what God does but to how God is. God’s being is the eternal Trinity. That being is the basis for God’s doing. This is true for us as well.

We were created to participate in and share the life of the Holy Trinity. It is our spiritual DNA. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). Trinitarian life is the pattern from which we were created. It is both the basis and destination of our lives. The Trinitarian life is a choreography of love; three equal persons, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each one dwelling in the other by virtue of an unceasing movement of mutual love.

Our lives, marriages, families, schools, workplaces, parishes, are to become images, icons, of the Triunity of God. We are invited to join this dance of mutuality and love. Whenever we see the world through another’s eyes, whenever the joys and sorrows of another become our own, whenever we completely give ourselves to another holding nothing back, whenever we open ourselves to receive without condition the life of another, whenever we both lose and find our life in the life of another then we are most like God. Then we have moved from being created in the image, the pattern, of God and we have begun living like God.

You see this in those rare married couples who live and love as one without ever losing their distinct uniqueness as two persons. Together they manifest divine love and reveal God’s life in this world. Ultimately, Trinitarian life is not about numbers. It’s not a quantity but, rather, a quality, a way of being. It’s that kind of relationship with another that allows us to say, “I love, therefore I am.”

This way of life is one of practical service and active compassion. There is no subordination within Trinitarian relationships. The Triunity of God is manifest in our struggles against injustice, oppression, and exploitation. It is the basis for living sacrificially in and for the life of another. A child who cares for an aging parent with love, compassion, and self-giving demonstrates Triune love. Similarly, the Trinity reveals what true parenthood looks like. The Triunity of God shows the way to find unity with others, not in spite of our diversity and multiplicity, but through and because of our diversity and multiplicity.

The image of God in humanity is Trinitarian. It is in every one of you. The divine image offers a life with God and others that is relational, personal, participatory, communal, and loving. This is the life for which we were created. It is the truest pattern of who we are and how we are to live. To turn away from another, to withdraw our life from another, to live in isolation, to exclude another declaring that we have no need of them are the most unnatural and un-godlike things we do.

Our love for one another and our faith in the Holy Trinity are integrally related. You cannot have one without the other. A genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can only be made by those who show mutual love to one another. Our love for one another is the precondition for a Trinitarian faith and a Trinitarian faith is what completes and gives meaning to our love for another.

Beware, however. This is not easy. It’s dangerous to live a Trinitarian faith. It means love, vulnerability, openness to another, self-giving, sharing and participating in one another’s lives such that we become one. That is how Christ lived and died. That is the resurrected, ascended, and “pentecosted” life Christ reveals and offers us. It is how we are to be and live. Our culture neither recognizes nor rewards this kind of life. To the world it looks like weakness and dependency. In God’s world, however, it looks like holiness. Humanity is most authentically itself when it participates in and manifests the divine life. “The glory of God is man fully alive,” said St. Irenaeus in the second century.

Every Sunday in the Nicene Creed we confess our belief in God who is Trinity. We confess the oneness of God as well as the uniqueness of the three persons. This may be what we believe but is it how we live? If our belief in God as three and one is not manifested in and determinative of our relationships, can we really claim belief in the Triune God?

Every moment, every circumstance, every relationship is one in which we can make real and visible the divine life and love of the Holy Trinity. That is the human vocation. It is what we were created to do. It is the most natural and godlike thing we ever do.


Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.

Reflection excerpt from Interrupting the Silence, Fr. Michael K. Marsh