A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for May, 2018

“Three” can be a lucky number

It is interesting to note that the number 3 quite frequently  turns out to be a number that somehow represents fulfillment.  For instance, many authors tell a story embracing three parts–a beginning (introducing the characters), a middle (containing the plot and its development) and an end (containing the solution of the plot).

The Gospel for the feast of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), appears to give us a clue as to how we can experience a sense of fulfillment once we are aware of the Trinity’s presence in our lives.

I know this sounds a little complicated (maybe it is) , but I think that we can make sense of it by reflecting on three (would you believe it?) key themes in the day’s gospel.  (Matt. 28:16-20)  These themes are: (A)-the mountain; (B)-the commissioning of the disciples, and (C)-the notion of “God with us.”

First of all, the mountain.  In the Bible, the mountain is often portrayed as the meeting place between heaven and earth.  When something special was about to take place, it happened on a mountain.  For instance there is Mt. Sinai where a mutual covenant between God and his people occurred.  It was mutual because both  God and the people committed themselves to each other.  “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all peoples.”  (Ex. 19:5)

Then, of course, there is the Sermon on the Mount.  “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain….” (Matt. 5:1)  and began to teach.  Jesus’ purpose was very clear.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)  His fulfillment of the law was to point out that it was as sinful to think about something evil as it was of doing it.  “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.”  (Matt. 28:16)

Secondly, the commissioning of the disciples.  Jesus was able to commission his disciples into continuing his work of justice, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and doing good for others because he had the authority to do so.  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” (Matt. 28:18) Thus he was able to say, “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.” (Matt. 28:19)

Thirdly, the notion of “God with us.”  In the Old Testament, we have the theme of God with his people.  They could do nothing without the belief that God would be present.  For example, the Ark of the Covenant was God’s presence among them.as was the Jerusalem Temple.  But above all, there was the idea of Immanuel  which in Hebrew means “God with us.”

The belief in Immanuel carried over into the Incarnation where God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.  The season of Advent and Christmas brings this out.

Matthew’s gospel ends with the verse in which Jesus says to his disciples “…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt. 28:20)  The promise of Jesus to be with his disciples always continues the theme of Immanuel for today and beyond.

What have we learned from these reflections?  Actually, several things, taking into account the three gospel themes.  First theme: the mountain, being the meeting place between God and his people.  Where/what is my mountain?  How and where do I meet God?  Prayer?  Sacraments? In another person?

Second theme: the commissioning of the disciples.  My commissioning takes place at my Baptism wherein I assume the responsibility to be of service to my neighbor.  Beginning of discipleship.

Third theme: the continued presence of Jesus among us.  Carrying forth the Immanuel spirit means that I don’t have to be alone to face the challenges presented by folks who are hostile to Jesus’ message.

Mountain (encountering God), being commissioned (awareness of Baptism), and carrying on the Immanuel spirit (Jesus forever with us) are three things that can make us effective disciples.  So, every time that I make the sign of the cross with holy water, not only am I reminded of the Trinity involved in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also of my Baptism.  Such a moment suggests fulfillment and as such 3 becomes a lucky number.

Advertisements

“Dove” is not just a bar of soap

People often use items that have brand names.  This is true of soap.  I have often heard people talk about the wonders of “Dove” soap, but to those for whom it is of concern I also mention that we Christians often see the image of “dove” in another way.  That image is that of the Holy Spirit.  The feast of Pentecost reminds us that Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his work right before his ascension into heaven.  With the coming of the Spirit the disciples would receive encouragement and support while they continued spreading Jesus’ message on earth.

But just who/what is the Holy Spirit?  Before you start yelling “heretic” hear me out.  I strongly suspect that the Holy Spirit is the power of God.  Here are just a few of the many biblical references that bring this out.

To begin with, there is the first creation account.  We read that the  earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the face of the deep.  “…while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  (Gen. 1:2b)  Then God spoke and creation occurred.  Now, that’s power.

A second example comes from the book of Judges.  Gideon, who is a warrior and a leader, is chosen to become a Judge who is both a warrior and a leader of the people.  “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon….”  (Jdg. 6:34)  These examples from the Old Testament demonstrate that “wind” and “spirit” refer to the power of God.  What is of import here is that the Hebrew word used for “wind” and “spirit” is RUAH, which basically means “breath,” something that comes forth from the inside of a person.

There are also New Testament examples.  When St. Paul wrote to the Romans, he said, “And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  (Rom. 8:27)  Here we are told that the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the disciples.  Intercession is a manifestation of the power of God.

A significant example is that all four Gospels speak about the Baptism of Jesus.  (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34)  We can surmise that the Baptism of Jesus was considered a significant event, which is why all four evangelists utilize the same image.  Namely, in Matt., Mk., and Lk.  At the Baptism, a voice from heaven says, “…this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased…”  Then the Spirit appears in the form of a dove.

John’s Gospel differs a little, perhaps because it was the last of the Gospels to be written thus allowing more reflection upon the deeds of Jesus.  The text reads, “And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’.”  (Jn. 1:32.)

The next verse gives the explanation.  “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'”  (Jn. 1:33)  This last verse tells us that  the baptism with the Holy Spirit provides the recipient with the help and encouragement to proclaim Jesus’ message to the world.

What have we learned from this?  First, that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. The examples from Genesis and the book of Judges have brought this out, showing how “wind” and “spirit” were concretely effective.

Secondly, that Paul in his letter to the Romans says to us that the spirit intercedes for God, which is a manifestation of power. The four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

In effect, the Holy Spirit is the power of God.  Before his ascension, Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, peace, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.  When we are baptized, we receive that same commission, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the encouragement and support to fulfill that commission.

Because of our Baptism, we have received a sharing of the power of God in order to fulfill the ministry of Jesus.  So for us Christians, the image of the dove is, in reality, the Holy Spirit and not just a bar of soap.

 

 

 

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: