FMoses said to the people:
"Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?
Was it ever heard of?
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 the LORD, your God,
did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
This is why you must now know,
and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,
and that there is no other.
You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today,
that you and your children after you may prosper,
and that you may have long life on the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever."
Brothers and sisters:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons 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 cry, "Abba, Father!"
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, 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.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
I grew up with my teachers’ warning, “If you can’t define it, you don’t know it.” No matter how hard I’d try to convince them that I really knew the answer to their question, either I handed over a definition or they marked me wrong. There was no middle ground.
I wonder how today’s sacred authors would fare at my teachers’ hands. Though all three talks about God, none of them provides us with a definition of the Trinity.
It took the “official” church almost 300 years before it even came up with the catechism definition we all learned, the “three persons in one God” one. But as Fr. Bernard Lonergan frequently reminded us Licentiate candidates years ago, the bishops at the Council of Nicea had to redefine several Greek terms to come up with that well-known, but rarely understood description.
Our Deuteronomic author, Paul and Matthew are much more interested in what God does than in who God is. That’s completely understandable. How does someone define a being one cannot comprehend? Rudolf Bultmann once observed that our sacred authors have a built-in problem. They’re writing about the “other side” for people who inhabit “this side.” Any simile we surface – no matter how insightful - will limp horribly. That’s why we should simply be content to reflect on the Trinity’s actions in our lives, and leave the definitions until we reach the pearly gates.
Among other things, God’s actions constantly demonstrate God’s care. The Hebrew Scriptures begin with and revolved around the Exodus. Yahweh’s freeing of some enslaved Israelites starts the Jewish “thing.” Their faith doesn’t begin with people learning how to define this new God; it starts with Yahweh breaking into their everyday lives in a forceful way. “Did anything so great ever happen before? . . . Did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation . . . ?” If Yahweh demands we first learn a definition, we’d have no salvation history.
Paul agrees. He’s a good Jew. Since he doesn’t worry about defining Yahweh, why should he worry about defining Jesus as God? He’s simply concerned with what the risen Jesus does in our lives. Above everything else, the Christ gives us a new personality. Paul reminds the Romans that we’ve been transformed into God’s unique children. No longer God’s fearful slaves, we’re now on an equal level with God’s son. The only kicker is that, like him/her, we have to suffer. There’s no other way to attain real life.
But we’re not in “this” by ourselves. One of the most significant things the risen Jesus does is simply to be with us.
Years ago, one of our local bishops ended his installation homily by quoting today’s gospel pericope. Good choice. But there was one problem. He prefaced the quote by saying, “Never forget that this is what Jesus promised right before he ascended into heaven.”
He inadvertently mixed up Matthew with Luke. There’s no ascension in Matthew. The end of today’s gospel pericope is the end of his gospel. Matthew’s Jesus doesn’t go anywhere. He’s still “out there” somewhere with us. If Faith Hill is so close to the person she loves that she can feel him breathe, I presume the risen Jesus is so close to us that we can not only feel him/her breathe, the Christ can also feel us breathe. We’re never in this faith thing by ourselves.
If today’s feast prompts us to mentally return to our grade school catechism classes, we’re celebrating it in a non-biblical way. Only those who, by nightfall, can come up with one or two more ways God’s working in our lives have really listened to our readings.