ColumnsSunday’s Word

God so loved the world …

June 11, 2017


Ex 34:4-6, 8-9

After the Gold Calf episode

Dn 3:52-56

Song of the men in the fire

2 Cor 13:11-13

Closing at the end of the letter

Jn 3:16-18

God so loved the world … 061117.cfm

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Belief in the Trinity is a matter of Christian faith, and not to be found in the Old Testament. The dominant witness of the Hebrew Scriptures is to the oneness of God. We must turn to the New Testament to find evidence of the Three Persons. And even there, it is not to be found in the fullest sense, as articulated in the Trinitarian councils of the church. There the inner life of the Trinity is declared. In the New Testament the effects of the different persons upon the human community is what we see demonstrated.

The mention of all three in one passage is not common. But we have an example in the second reading for today, which is the doxology-like conclusion to Second Corinthians. It is worth noting how Paul has characterized each Person:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

This succinct statement provides us with a guide to the New Testament view of the action of the Trinitarian God among us.

The love of God is captured in the Gospel reading. The first verse, beloved of bumper sticker and billboard, identifies that love as the desire to restore a severed relationship. This is also the theme of Romans 5:6-11. Even when we were estranged from God, enemies and sinners, God still loved us, and arranged to have us reunited with him. The love is shown in God’s decision to take the initiative, and open negotiations.

This love is the theme of the first reading as well. The occasion is the aftermath of the Golden Calf episode. Moses descended Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Covenant, only to find the Israelites, frustrated and impatient with waiting, have turned to a god of their own making—a Golden Calf forged from the rings, earrings, and bracelets they had among them.

The breach had occurred, and now it is time to pick up the pieces, and reconstruct the connection. Moses receives instructions to try again. Bring another set of tablets up the mountain, and they will start over again. God had not given up on this “stiff-necked people.” Here too, in the Old Testament (perhaps to our surprise), God is a God of love.

The experience of the Covenant is one of forgiveness, and restoration of connected with God. The knowledge that the Covenant only succeeded on the second try was a memory that would stay with Israel in its knowledge of its pact with God as a chosen people.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is shown in the very gratuity of the gift of reunion. Grace means gift. The restoration of relations is not earned. It cannot be earned, in fact. But it is offered as a gift, and received as a gift. This too is echoed in the Gospel phrase: “… he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is Paul’s way of saying that the sending of the Spirit is realized in the life of the community. It locates the presence of the Spirit in the time of Paul, after the resurrection of Jesus.

“Fellowship” is rendered “communion” in some translations, sensitive to the masculine connotations of “fellow.” The Greek word is koinonia, which not only connotes community and communion, but also participation, intimacy, and contact. In this context, it refers to the consequence of the move toward reconciliation of the disaffected. Now we are reconciled, and the Spirit moves among us.

For reflection: Can we discern different faith relations as regard the Persons of the Trinity?

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