2002 May 26 Trinity Sunday (Prison Writings)
Cycle A Trinity Sun
Ex 34, 4-6, 7-9,
2 Cor 13, 11-13,
Jn 3, 16-18
Fr. Frank Cordaro Reflections
The next two weekends, in between Pentecost and the resumption of Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the feasts of Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi.. This week is the feast of the Holy Trinity, and if theology is the study of God, then the dogma of the Holy Trinity is the most important of all the teachings of the Church.
The first thing that needs to be said about the Holy Trinity is that it’s not about what is going on with God. God is big, real big. God is bigger than anything we can say, think, or believe about God. God is not limited to our understandings of dogmas about God. Basically, we know little to nothing about the inner works of God. The dogma of the Trinity is about what Karl Rahner called the Economy of God. It’s about our experience of God, how God relates to us. In other words, it’s all about relationships.
If I had to name one theologian who best describes my understanding of God, he would be Martin Buber, the famed Jewish existential philosopher who wrote the book, I-Thou. Buber believes all that human beings know of truth and reality comes through relationships. Apart from relationships nothing exists.
The dogma of the Trinity is therefore an attempt to describe three very distinct and differing ways in which the one God is in relationship with us. So intense and unique are these divine experiences that each represents a wholly other personal relationship. So that through the one and same God there are three differing and singular persons whom we’ve named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9 The Father: The first person of the Trinity is God the Father. God the Father is the creator of the Universe and anything else that exists. Bigger than big, this is the person of God in which fear of God is meant. As any creator, we can stand in awe and fear of our creator. Yet, our relationship with God the Father goes beyond the creator creature experience. Singular and unique it is a personal relationship in which the Father chose to intervene in human history to make a covenant with the Jewish people, his chosen people.
This week’s first reading from the Book of Exodus gives an example of God the Father intervening in human history to further his relationship with the Jewish people. The scene is Moses on Mt. Sinai. It’s after God freed the Jew’s from Egypt’s slavery. The Jewish people are at the foot of the mountain.
Moses has with him a second set of stone tablets. The first set of tablets, in which God had inscribed his covenant, was destroyed. Moses destroyed them when he found the people worshipping a golden calf. This second set of stone tablets was meant to replace the first set.
The text says God the Father comes down in a cloud to meet Moses at the top of the mountain. They have a personal encounter beyond the creature-creature experience. Moses pleads with God the Father to forgive the Jewish people. God the Father assents to Moses’ request. The second set of stone tablets are used by God to rewrite what was written on the first set of stone tablets.
And the salvation story goes on, and the unique and singular relationship between God the Creator with the Jewish people continues.
John 3: 16-18 The Son: The second person of the Trinity is God the Son. God the Son is the person of God who is radically, singularly, and uniquely a human person who lived and died in human history. This human being is Jesus. In Jesus, the singular and unique relationship God the Father initiated with the Jewish people was raised to a whole new level. The one god, Creator of the Universe, took on human form, became a human being, and revealed God’s self in a way that changed the relationship between the Creator and the Created forever. The Church calls this revelation the Incarnation.
This week’s Gospel comes from the third chapter of John. It takes place right after Jesus does his criminal assault on the Temple. John writes his Gospel entirely different from the three other gospels that follow a similar plot and story line. In the three synoptic gospels Jesus enters Jerusalem only once, during the high holy days of the Feast of the Passover. He does his Temple cleansing assault right after the major street demonstrations he led in Jerusalem. This is the demonstration that the Church celebrates on Palm Sunday.
In John’s Gospel Jesus enters Jerusalem three different times during three different Passover celebrations.. Jesus’ first Jerusalem visit takes in the second chapter in which he does his Temple cleansing direct action. In John’s Gospel Jesus is in trouble with the religious and political authorities right away. A marked man, throughout the rest of the gospel, Jesus is constantly on the move, looking back over his shoulder, a step ahead of the authorities who are out to get him.
In the third chapter, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin comes to visit Jesus right after the temple cleansing. He comes in the middle of the night, secretly. He doesn’t want anyone to know he’s visiting Jesus. He is seeking an explanation of why Jesus did what he did in the temple. A lot of issues are covered in this discussion.
In this week’s text, I’d like to raise two points that are made that are often misread, misunderstood, and misused based on two books I’ve read here in jail.
God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world. John 3:17: With the coming of Jesus, God got out of the condemning business. Regardless of what the authors of the Scriptures, both Jewish and Christian, might say; when God revealed God’s self in Jesus, God revealed an unconditional loving and unlimited forgiving deity. And this deity’s power is manifested solely on an invitational basis. It is never cohesive or judgmental. At least that is what jack Nelson-Pallmeyer makes a case for in his book Jesus Against Christianity—Reclaiming the Missing Jesus, Trinity Press International, 2001. According to Nelson-Pallmeyer, we in the faith-based nonviolent resistance movement will never fully understand or embody the nonviolent spirit of Jesus until we rid ourselves of the pathological, violent images that we attribute to God.
This is one of the most challenging books I’ve read in a long time. I recommend it for anyone struggling with the non-violence of Jesus and coming to grips with the violent images of God found in the Bible.
Whoever does not believe has already been condemned because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:18: The only way we human beings can be condemned is by self-condemnation.. It is one of the strange quirks about being a human being is that the only thing we can do, entirely on our own, without the help of God, is to place ourselves outside the range of God’s unlimited forgiveness and unconditional love.
Where this truth revealed through Jesus is misread, misunderstood, and misused is when believers in Jesus use it to condemn others for not believing in Jesus the way they believe in Jesus.
This original sin of Christianity first made itself known when the New Testament was being written, during the decades immediately after the destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. when the Jewish-Christian movement was competing with the pharisaical rabbinic movement for the legacy of the Jewish faith. When the pharisaical rabbinic movement rejected the Christians’ claims about Jesus, Christians moved to demonize their Jewish siblings, revisioning history by blaming them for the death of Jesus. This anti-Jewish polemic is found in almost all the New Testament and is most clearly articulated in the Gospel of John in which this week’s text contributes.
For a fuller reading of these beginning missteps by the early Jesus movement and their tragic consequences for the Church and the Jewish people, I highly recommend James Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword: A History of the Church and the Jews, published by Mariner Books, 2002. It is a book that will disturb you, challenge you, make you angry and sad, force you to look at a dark side of our faith tradition while giving some hopeful suggestions on where we need to go to reclaim our true roots.
Second Corinthians 13: 11-13, The Holy Spirit: The third person of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious person of the Trinity. In the Old Testament, God’s wisdom is the antecedent to the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is a feminine word in Hebrew. The Holy Spirit is said to be the feminine side of God. The Holy Spirit has a cosmic (macro) role to play in God’s salvation plan. She is the stuff of God that is in all things. This is different from the all-knowing, all-present, “he is everywhere” aspect of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is that which is the spark and essence of God that is “in” every element of Creation. She is the God force bringing all creation into God’s domain.
She also has a unique and singular role to play with the Jesus Movement. Called the Advocate by Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves people to embrace boldly the message and mission of the Gospel. She gives courage and guidance to those who want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. She has many gifts to bestow on the followers of the Jesus Way to help them in their kingdom journey. She works with individuals and with groups, behind the scenes and in front of all to see. Her powers are unlimited and uncontrollable. A person has only to be open to her spirit within them to benefit from her gifts. She works directly with Jesus and the Father in their conspiracy of love that is at the bottom of God’s salvation plan.
In today’s second reading from Second Corinthians, Paul concludes his letter with a Trinitarian blessing indicating how all three persons of the Holy Trinity work together. Through “the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, all three persons work together for the betterment of the community.