Commentary on the Readings
Most Holy Trinity – Year B – May 27, 2018
The joy of discovering the hidden mystery
We do not have exclusive right to faith in God. However, the assertion that, in the one God, there is a paternity, filiation and a gift of love is specific to Christianity. With an abstract term, not biblical and certainly inadequate, we call this mystery Trinity.
The Jews deny it. In their morning and evening prayer, they repeat: “Our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4-5). The Muslims do not accept it, for them only “Allah is great and Mohammed is his prophet.”
We speak of “mystery,” not in the sense of an incomprehensible, obscure reality and, if poorly understood, even contrary to reason, but of the wealth of infinite life of the one God. He transcends all understanding, and gradually reveals himself to person to introduce him in the fullness of his joy.
Will it be possible for humans to explore this unfathomable secret? A wise man, who lived in the time of Jesus, stated: “We are barely able to know about the things of earth, and it is a struggle to understand what is close to us; who then may hope to understand heavenly things?” (Wis 9:16).
To penetrate into the mystery of God, the Muslims have the Koran, from which they derive the ninety-nine names of Allah; the hundreth remains unspeakable, because man cannot understand all of God. The Jews find the Lord through the events of their history of salvation, meditated, rewritten and reinterpreted for centuries, before being finally delivered to the people, and later, in the holy books. For Christians, the book that introduces the discovery of God is Jesus Christ. He “is the open book with strokes of spear;” he is the Son who, from the cross reveals that God is Father and gift of Love, Life, Spirit.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Introduce me Lord, with mind and heart, in your life that is love.”
Although the exhortations in this passage are attributed to Moses, they really belong to an anonymous author of the sixth century B.C. The author was born in Babylon among the Israelites who were aware of being responsible of the condition of slavery they find themselves in. They were also convinced to have finally compromised with the sins of their history. They were dejected, discouraged and they needed to hear words of comfort and hope.
The prophet turned to these deported people and invited them to reflect on the past. He asked them to remember the work of salvation wrought by the Lord in Egypt and to compare them with the deeds that other people attribute to their gods. The conclusion was obvious: in the whole world no one has ever heard that a God has intervened so hard to free his people, as the Lord has done with Israel. No God has ever spoken as he did with Abraham and the patriarchs and to Moses in the burning bush. It was never heard that a God has done extraordinary wonders, as did the Lord to save his people (vv. 32-34).
The gods of the other peoples lived in the sky and were not interested in what happened on earth. They dwelt in temples waiting to be served and to receive sacrifices from their worshipers. The God of Israel, on the other hand, was involved in the history of his people. The psalmist was also convinced of it: “Who is like the Lord our God who sits enthroned on high, but also bends to see on earth as in heaven?” (Ps 113:5-6).
If the deported to Babylon trusted this God as attentive to the vicissitudes of people, they could not let their arms drop: as he did in the past, he certainly will intervene to rescue them.
The prophet reminded the Israelites in Mesopotamia of a friend and protector God. This same revelation is directed to each person so that, in every circumstance of life, he may feel accompanied by the Lord and aware that God rejoices in his successes and is a partaker of his disappointments. Who believes in this God does not lose heart even though, in his own life, errors are verified: He knows, in fact, that God understands him and shows how to remedy them.
This God of Israel is only love and tenderness and he always goes to save his people. Far from inducing them to commit sins, faith in this God is an incentive to cultivate trust and welcome his precepts as the word of life. For this the reading ends with the exhortation: “Observe the laws and everything will be well with you and your children after you” (v. 40).
This passage defines a first aspect of the nature of the God of Israel, in which we Christians also believe. He is a God who does not know solitude, who seeks dialogue, talks, is interested in people and wants to be with people. He makes his people get out of Egypt “to live among them” (Ex 29:46). The tent of meeting, that accompanied the Israelites during the Exodus, was the sacramental sign of this presence and even when they became disloyal and were deported to Babylon, through the prophet Ezekiel, he went on to promise: “I will live among the Israelites forever” (Ezek 43:7). The Lord was acting like a man who falls madly in love. He cannot remove his heart and mind from the beloved person, even when he is unfaithful.
The highest manifestation of this need that God experiences in staying with people was when he “dwelt among us and we have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14). To this day, “for where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:19-20).
The prophet, who exhorted the exiles in Babylon to believe that the Lord was close to them, had only a dull intuition. He never imagined that God was so eager to be with man to come one day among his people, to “become flesh” in order to be seen with the eyes, touched with the hands, heard with the ears and become the guest and table companion of people. In God so close, in the Emmanuel, only we Christians believe.
Paul describes with moving words the condition of the Christian after baptism. He is no longer a mere creature, not a submissive slave to a master, but a son, because he has received from the Lord his own life.
God has not only pitched his tent among us, but he came to involve us in his life, as Peter says to the Christians of his community: “His divine power has given us the most extraordinary and precious promises. Through them you share in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3-4).
This participation is the work of the Spirit. It is his inner urge that from the bottom of the heart there breaks an irrepressible cry of joy turned to God and cries: “Abba, Father” (v. 15).
At this point the Apostle feels the need to define the difference between the sonship of the Only Begotten, Christ, and ours. He does this by using the image of adoptive sonship. It is an institution unknown in Israel, but widespread in the Greek-Roman world. Those who were adopted enjoyed the same rights as the biological children, including participation in family inheritance. In a similar way, indeed, much more so—explains Paul—man is introduced by God in his “family”. He offers him a free, full sonship and the same “legacy”, the same bliss enjoyed by his only-begotten Son.
Faced with this gift of love, it is completely absurd and inconceivable that anyone still fears God. “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives away fear, for fear has to do with punishment; those who fear do not know perfect love. So let us love one another, since he loved us first” (1 Jn 4:18-19). This is the mystery of the Trinity, not a cerebral discourse, but an involvement in the life and joy of the Lord. The religion of one who prays to a distant God and does not feel him in himself is incompatible with the profession of faith in God who is Father, Son and Spirit.
In primitive communities, baptism was administered in the name of Jesus. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, turned to the people and urged them to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). The custom of baptizing in the name of the Trinity was introduced later. It is the formula that Matthew puts in the mouth of the Risen One. It reflects the liturgical practice of the second half of the first century A.D.
The scene told in today’s passage is set on a mountain in Galilee (v. 16). The mountain, in biblical language, indicates the location of the revelations of God. By placing the manifestation of the Risen Lord on the mountain, Matthew means that only one who has made an authentic experience of Christ and has assimilated his message is qualified to fulfill the mission he entrusts to his disciples.
In the second part of the passage (vv. 18-20) this mission is presented. The disciples receive the commission to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded.
They were already sent by the Master to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, but with a limitation: “Do not visit pagan territory and do not enter a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). After Easter, their mission expands; it becomes universal.
The light of the gospel began to shine in Galilee when Jesus left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum. The people who sat in darkness saw a great light; to them who sat in the region and shadow of death, a light had risen (Mt 4:16). Now this light is destined to shine all over the world as the prophets announced. Israel becomes “light to the nations” (Is 42:6).
The timing is crucial, and Jesus refers, in a solemn manner, to his authority. The Father has sent him to bring the message of salvation and gave him all power in heaven and on earth. Heaven and earth indicate, in the language of the Bible, all of creation (Gen 1:1). Nothing, therefore, escapes the “rule” that the Father gave to Christ.
This universal “power” over all creation has nothing in common with the kingdoms of this world. It consists in the ability to serve man, leading him to salvation and introducing him in the intimacy of love with the Father.
It is at this point that the call to the mystery of the divine life that we celebrate in this feast is placed. Stammering with our poor language we call this mystery Trinity.
We are not called to give adherence to an abstract concept, to profess a cold formula, but to sing a grateful hymn to God for the gift he has made of his life. Our fate was death but, “God gives us, by grace, life everlasting” (Rom 6:23). Then the shout of joy emerges from our lips: “See what singular love the Father has for us: we are called children of God, and we really are! We are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been shown. Yet when he appears in his glory, we know that we shall be like him, for then we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1-3) and also: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned on the mind what God has prepared for those who love him. God has revealed it to us, through his Spirit” (1 Cor 2:9-10).
How will this plan of salvation be implemented?
God will carry it through the Christian community. The Risen One has not kept to himself the “power” conferred on him by the Father. He communicated it to his disciples, who are his extension in the world. He has given to them the task of bringing salvation to “all nations.”
Paul was aware of this task and the universality of salvation when he said: “For he wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). No one, however sinful, will be excluded from the divine life, which is freely offered to every person, “So God has submitted all to disobedience, in order to show his mercy to all” (Rom 11:32).
The divine life will reach people through the preaching of the Gospel and baptism (v. 19). These are two acts that turn people into disciples and give rise to a whole new life, modeled on the values given by Christ (v. 20).
The “family” of God, the Trinity, is the picture of perfect harmony, full integration total realization (?) that occurs in the encounter and dialogue of love. This unity of all in the peace of the Father’s “home” is fully realized when the “saving power” of the Risen One will have reached, through the disciples, every person. However, it must begin now, in this world, because now God has already made partakers of his own Love.
The Christian community is called to a challenging vocation and certainly superior than human capabilities.
In the Bible, God’s every call is always accompanied by human fear and the Lord’s promise that assures: “Fear not, I am with you.” To Jacob traveling to an unknown land God guarantees: “I am with you and I will keep you safe wherever you go, nor will leave you” (Gen 28:15). To Israel deported to Babylon, God says, “Since you are precious in my sight and I have loved you. Fear not for I am with you” (Is 43:4-5). To Moses who objects: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt?” He replied: “I will be with you” (Ex 3:11-12). To Paul who in Corinth is tempted ‘to be discouraged, the Lord says, “Do not be afraid, I am with you so no one will harm you” (Acts 18:9-10).
The promise of the Risen Lord to his disciples, who are about to take their first, tentative steps could not be different: “I am with you always, even to the end of this world” (v. 20). The Gospel of Matthew ends as it had begun, with the call to Emmanuel, the God with us, the name by which the Messiah was foretold by the prophets (Mt 1:22-23).
The God in whom we Christians believe is not far. He is not in heaven, does not live as if our problems, our joys and our troubles do not touch him. He is the “God with us,” the God who is at our side every day, until he will have received us all in his house forever.
There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles commenting on today’s Gospel reading: