ColumnsSunday’s Word

God so loved the world

June 7, 2020


Ex 34:4-6, 8-9

Moses replaces the broken tablets

Dn 3:52-56

Song of the three young men in the fiery furnace

2 Cor 13:11-13

Paul closes with a doxology

Jn 3:16-18

God so loved the word


A doxology is a prayer of praise, often used as a conclusion. The “Glory Be” in the rosary is one ex­ample. Another is found in the endings to many psalms. Or the Collect Prayers at Mass. In the Catholic tradition, doxologies usually invoke the Trinity. In this sense, Trinity Sunday is itself a grand doxology concluding the special season of the liturgical year.

The Trinity is revealed in the New Testament. It is not found in the Old Testament, though there are hints. So when we turn to the reading from Exodus, we can expect signals of what later will be understood as referring to the Trinity, though in an undeveloped way. The God of Israel relates to his people in distinctly different ways. Later these will be seen as signs of the three Persons.

The story of Moses is an interesting choice for the day. He brings to the mountain top the broken tablets, a result of the Israelite sin of idolatry, worshiping the Golden Calf, The reading is somewhat enigmatic, partly through editing, and partly through brevity of selection. What happens is an exchange between the Lord God and Moses. Moses is there to negotiate a second chance.

He presents the broken tablets; the Lord responds. The response highlights God’s grace and mercy, “slow to anger and abounding in love an fidelity.” Moses kneels and bows down. Then he apologizes for his people, and requests that God continue with them. That is where it ends, but the story will continue on to show God once again taking his place in the story of salvation. Of course, if he hadn’t, this would be the last chapter of the Bible!

Here God’s love is forgiveness. The Gospel reading is not too different. The passage from John is not Trinitarian in any strict sense. Instead, it speaks to the relationship of the Father and the Son. The line is famous, referenced on a multitude of license plates as “John 3:16” — “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The point is that a rescue operation has occurred, and a humanity on a path to oblivion has been rescued.

Paul speaks of in in Romans 5. He says that when we were helpless, when we were sinners, when we were enemies of God, all that was put aside as God sent his Son. God’s love expresses itself in a decisive action.

Perhaps the most common Trinitarian expression in our experience is the Sign of the Cross. While Trinity Sunday likes such formulae, there is only one that fits perfectly. That would be at the end of Matthew’s gospel, where the disciples are told to go forth baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). In today’s second reading, from 2 Corinthians 13, we have something similar, however. The passage concludes the letter, and thereby works as a doxology.

Paul’s formula is “God, Jesus, and Spirit.” He does present God as a Father elsewhere — see Romans 8:14-17 — but not in his doxologies. In today’s example we see him speak of each Person in divergent ways. “Love” (agape) is “of God.” Jesus is represented by “grace” (charis), The Spirit provides “fellowship,” or communion (koinonia). The God of love has already been seen in the other readings as a foundational characteristic of divinity. Grace, or gift, speaks to an particular event, which here is the incarnation of the Son. The koinonia of the Spirit, on the other hand, is the life of the community, persisting beyond the life and death, and resurrection, of Jesus.

For reflection: We experience God’s presence in different ways.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.