This week begins a transition between Easter Time to ‘Ordinary’ time, with a focus on the essence of ‘God in three’. The New Testament does not give us a theological definition of what ‘Trinity’ means, rather it gives us glimpses of how the early Christians experienced Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is an emphasis on relationship between ourselves and our God, and also a pointer to the deep truth that relationship is at the heart of God, the love between the three persons which pours out into humanity.
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
This book of the Old Testament is written as the last address of Moses to the Jewish people, both a reminder of all they have been taught, and a sermon to remain faithful to God and the commandments. Our selection begins with what amounts to a hymn of praise of God’s dealing with his people. These past wonders should convince them that God is worthy of all their service. At this point, surrounded by peoples who worshipped many gods, it was important to remember that there was one God ‘and no other’ has any power or authority. Before Christ, they could not have been prepared for accepting the idea of the one God as a ‘Trinity’. As we hear it, it may remind us of the ‘mystery’ of our faith, that God is indeed ‘one’ but in that oneness is contained a fullness that includes the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 32/33: 4-6, 6-9, 18-20, 22
A hymn of praise, which in our selected verses unites a description of creation by the power of God – the vastness of the heavens and all else that exists – coupled with how God personally cares for each one of us.
St Paul’s Letter here joins all the persons of the Trinity, beginning the Spirit who lives in our hearts and gives us the knowledge that God is our intimate Father. The Aramaic word Abba is a family term, not quite as casual as ‘Daddy’ or ‘Dad’ of our times, but expresses the closeness of a loving parent to whom we relate truly as beloved children. As children of God, he explains, we share fully in the inheritance of Jesus as the Son of God. Now on earth we still share in varying degrees the suffering of Christ when he lived among us as a human, still we are promised the full share in Christ’s glory with the Father and Spirit for eternity.
This is the most explicit point in the gospels where the three persons of the Holy Trinity are joined together. Because we are baptized in these words, we are drawn into that divine life. This selection is the end of the Gospel, the point at which Matthew wishes to show that the followers of Jesus are to carry out his commands as he returns to the Father. Although the call to preach is directed here to the ‘eleven’ (the 12 Apostles minus Judas), all who are baptized can share the Good News with those around them, each in their own way, if only by living in Christ themselves.
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus after his resurrection first appears to the women who came to the tomb planning to anoint his dead body. The heavenly messenger sends them to ‘his brothers’ to tell them to go to Galilee where he will meet them. Neither Jesus nor the evangelists give any explanation of why they are to leave Jerusalem (Luke and John have appearances to the apostles of Jesus there). It was of course where the apostles were first called and taught by Jesus, and he may want to remind them of that. Since it was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4:15) it may symbolize that the Gospel is to be preached to ‘all nations’ and will no longer confined to the first Chosen People.
‘Some doubted’: compare the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ in John’s Gospel (20:24-29). Even at this stage with the positive conclusion, Matthew reminds us that there is still a human choice to be made in faith. God does not overwhelm us with the power of his loving presence, but calls to respond in freedom.
Mountains have been a significant feature of Matthew’s gospel. The first teaching of Jesus, in chapter 5 and 6, is from ‘the mountain’. Neither that one or the mountain of the Transfiguration are ever named, nor is this mountain to which Jesus had ‘directed’ them. This suggests that for Matthew ‘the mountain’ has a symbolic meaning, and is more than a geographic place. In the Old Testament, the Law was given to Moses on a mountaintop (variously named Sinai or Horeb). Following that, there was a long tradition of mountain tops as places of revelation and encounter with God.
As Moses in the first reading called on the people to follow the Law he had passed on to them, Matthew shows that the disciples new direction is to observe the commands of Jesus. Jesus is revealed as the one having ‘all authority in heaven and earth’, making him one greater than Moses.
The final sentence of our reading is the last verse in Matthew, and full of consolation for those in our times who were not present at the resurrection but can count on the presence of Jesus in our lives and community ‘till the end of time’. ‘With you’ reflects back to the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel (1:23) where Jesus is to be called ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’. It thus encloses the Gospel with Jesus as the God who is always present to us.