The authors of our Christian Scriptures couldn’t have imagined celebrating today’s feast of the Trinity. They were much more interested in discovering what God was doing for us than what made God, God. Even our catechism tells us God made us before it tells us about the three persons who constitute God. The church came to the insight of the “three in one” only at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, about 200 years after the last biblical writing. The theologians who composed our Scriptures only reflected on the actions of God which directly affected their lives. If God didn’t act on their behalf, we’d know nothing of God.
Our Christian writers simply followed the example of their Hebrew predecessors. In today’s Deuteronomy reading, for instance, Yahweh’s praises are sung because of what Yahweh does for the Chosen People, not because of what Yahweh is. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which Yahweh, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” Only because Yahweh has done these things for Yahweh’s people are those people obligated to do the specific things Yahweh commands.
Paul and his communities have experienced parallel actions of God in their lives. Jesus’ followers are just as liberated from slavery as their ancestors were in Egypt 1,200 years before. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God,” the Apostles tell the Romans, “are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through whom we call, ‘Abba, Father!”
But just as the ancient Israelites were obligated to respond to God’s actions with actions of their own, Jesus’ disciples are expected “. . . to suffer with him, so that we might also be glorified with him.” God’s children are expected to imitate Jesus, their brother.
Today’s gospel pericope is one of the Christian Scriptures’ most important passages. Having recently celebrated the feast of Jesus’ ascension, many of us read something into the narrative that Matthew never put there. Those who preach today must be careful not to refer to this mountain-top event as giving us “Jesus’ last words before he ascends into heaven.”
There’s no ascension in Matthew. Only in Luke does Jesus definitively leave his followers on earth and go up to heaven. For Matthew, the risen Jesus is still here among us. Scholars remind us that, just as the evangelist begins his gospel with the angel’s proclamation to Joseph that his wife’s child will be known as “Emmanuel-God is with us,” he ends it with Jesus’ assurance that “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew’s Jesus has actually become the God who is continually with us.
Of course, Jesus’ continuing presence demands we reciprocate... “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
If we’re grateful the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work in our everyday lives, shouldn’t we be helping others recognize those same actions in their lives? Or is that something only “evangelical Christians” do?