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.